What is Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory disease, in which the airway occasionally constricts, becomes inflamed, and is lined with excessive amounts of mucus. These episodes can be triggered by exposure to an environmental stimulant, cold air, exercise or exertion, or emotional stress. This airway narrowing can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. The disorder is a recurring inflammatory condition, and symptoms can be mild or life threatening, but can usually be controlled with a combination of drugs and environmental changes. The best way to treat asthma is to identify the triggers and eliminate them from the individual's environment.

Asthma is becoming increasingly common, with up to one in four children suffering from asthma in the United States. In some individuals, the pain or inability to breath properly is chronic, but in others, breathing difficulty is intermittent, resulting in "asthma attacks." The onset might sudden, and during an extreme attack, the sufferer might turn blue and perhaps even lose consciousness due to the inability to breath.

Ways in Which You Might be Discriminated Against Because of Asthma
  • Your employer does not allow you to miss work for medical appointments
  • Your employer does not accommodate your need to take a reasonable amount of time off of work
  • Your employer will not provide reasonable on-site accommodations for your disability
  • Your employer does not eliminate your asthmatic triggers from your work environment
How the Law Protects You if You Have Asthma

To state a cause of action for disability discrimination, an employee must be disabled, regarded as disabled, or have a record of being disabled. The employee must then show that:

  • his or her disability results in physical limitations
  • that he or she can still perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodations)
  • and that the employer took some adverse action (such as not hiring, firing, or demoting the employee) on the basis of that disability.

According to both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employer may not take any adverse action against an employee because of the employee's disability. An adverse employment action would include discriminatory hiring, firing, or lack of accommodation. Having asthma can be a disability, deserving of protection from discrimination, as long as the asthma limits the individual's ability to work. An individual might be limited in that he or she cannot perform manual labor for long periods of time without falling short of breath. In that case, the employer also has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with asthma so as to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. The law will protect an employee whose employer does not provide these necessary accommodations. An employer will probably have an obligation to provide periodic rest breaks, if the employee so needs, unless doing so would place too great of a burden on the employer.

Further Information