Your Rights, One Voice: James’ Story
BY SEPTEMBER 26, 2018 – 2:26 PM HEALTH
For the last two years, James Wilson has worked as a behavioral health technician at an addiction treatment center in Illinois. James has found great meaning in this work with rehabilitation patients and has enjoyed his responsibility of conducting patient checks around the 23-acre campus.
James’ type 2 diabetes never interfered with this job until last spring, when he began to develop diabetes-related foot pain. He initially took some leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cope with his foot complications. He had to wear a cast twice, as well as a boot for some time. Unfortunately, the complications worsened, and James developed a life-threatening infection. His only viable option was to have his toe amputated.
When his FMLA leave ran out, James was told by his employer that he was not entitled to any other type of leave under the law. James researched his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and learned that he is protected against disability discrimination and is entitled to reasonable accommodations. He reached out to his employer to discuss possible reasonable accommodations that would enable him to continue to do his job, thinking, for example, that a scooter might be a workable option to allow him to continue to do his patient checks around the campus. However, his employer refused to entertain his suggestions. His employer also became nonresponsive when asked about disability insurance to which he was entitled.
James had been out of work for two months, without any pay or disability benefits and without any word from his employer. As far as he was concerned, his employer had every intention of “just forgetting [he] existed.”
Feeling distraught and discouraged, James contacted our Legal Advocacy Department for information and guidance about his legal rights. A Legal Advocacy attorney walked James through his rights under federal antidiscrimination laws. They discussed possible reasonable accommodations that he might be entitled to, such as extended leave or other accommodations that could enable him to do his rounds. They also discussed possible action steps and explored complaint options.
James soon learned that his employer had shut down the facility where he worked, so gaining employment again was not a viable option. However, armed with knowledge about his legal rights, James felt a new sense of confidence and decided to write a letter to this former employer, both to educate them about the rights of people with diabetes and the obligations of employers and to request that they follow through with backpay and disability benefits.
On the very same day that James sent the letter to his employer, he received a response. James shared the great news with our Legal Advocacy team: “I took your advice and wrote a letter to my employer. It worked like magic. My employer…pushed my disability claim through their insurance, and they paid me retroactively…It was truly a godsend that I contacted you. I want to sincerely thank you, and I am knocked out by the service you provide to others…”
The American Diabetes Association leads the effort to prevent and eliminate discrimination against people with diabetes at work, at school and in other parts of daily life. If you need help, call 1-800-DIABETES or visit diabetes.org/gethelp.