Does my employer have to accommodate my asthma?
Whether or not an employer has to accommodate your asthma depends on the answers to these three questions:
Private employers with at least 15 employees must comply with the ADA, so employees who work for all but the smallest employers are covered. Even if your employer is too small to be subject to the ADA, there may be a similar state law that protects you.
Assuming your employer is subject to the ADA, is your asthma a disability? Probably, the answer is yes. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or major bodily function. Even if your condition is largely controlled by medication, it still qualifies as a disability if it is disabling when active. Because asthma typically impairs the proper function of the respiratory system, it is often found to be a disability.
If your asthma is a disability, you have a right to reasonable accommodation: changes to the job or workplace that will allow you to perform the essential functions of your job. Often, accommodations for asthma involve air quality. For example, you may need for your employer to switch to nontoxic cleaning or maintenance materials, install an air filter in your work area, consider policies limiting fragrances, or give you notice of potentially triggering workplace events (such as painting, construction, mowing, or pest eradication).
However, your employer need not provide an accommodation that will create an undue hardship. An undue hardship is significant difficulty or expense, considering the size, resources, and industry of the employer. For example, it might create an undue hardship to require your employer to install a central ventilation and air filtration system. However, giving you an office with doors that close and a personal air filter device might be a reasonable accommodation that isn't too costly or disruptive.
To start the accommodation process, write your employer a reasonable accommodation letter. Include information about your disability, your limitations, and any accommodation ideas you might have. (For tips on writing a letter, see Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation.) For ideas on accommodating asthma and other respiratory ailments, check out the website of the Job Accommodation Network; it has an A to Z directory of ailments and accommodations.