The Americans With Disabilities Act and IBS

If you have irritable bowel syndrome, do you know how that may affect your rights in the workplace and in public accommodations? Learn about the Americans With Disabilities Act and how it may apply to your condition.

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What Is the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is legislation that prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals. The ADA was designed to prevent discrimination across the full range of human experience, including employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. The ADA applies to individuals who either have a disability or who are associated with a person with a disability.

A disability is defined as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual
  • A record of such an impairment
  • Being regarded as having such an impairment​

Is IBS Covered?

If a person's IBS symptoms significantly impact on a major life ability, IBS would qualify as a covered disability. An amendment to the ADA went into effect on January 1, 2009, that expanded the definition of a disability, providing better protection for individuals with chronic illnesses, such as IBS. Two specific changes are most applicable to IBS:

  • The term "major life activities" now includes recognition of problems with "major bodily functions" such as those of the digestive system.
  • The episodic nature of some disabilities is now recognized, as long as the symptoms interfere with a major life activity when present.

Know Your Rights

The ADA is applicable to all employers who have 15 or more employees. It requires such employers to ensure that disabled individuals have an opportunity to benefit from all work-related opportunities. This includes such things as hiring, promotions, salary, raises and training opportunities.

Employers are also required to make "reasonable accommodations" to the limitations of the disabled individual, as long as these accommodations do not result in "undue hardship".

How the ADA Defines Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA defines reasonable accommodations as:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
  • Job restructuring, part-­time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

How Do You Request Such an Accommodation?

According to the EEOC, all you have to do is make a request to your employer for an accommodation based on your medical needs. You do not have to mention the ADA or the term "reasonable accommodation." Although the ADA does not require such a request to be made in writing, it is probably a good idea to do so.

Your employer is entitled to ask for documentation regarding your IBS and the limitations it results in. The ADA recommends that you and your employer work together to determine what accommodation is needed. The act requires the employer to act quickly in responding to your request and in providing the necessary accommodation. Your employer is prohibited from disclosing such accommodations to your coworkers as the ADA ensures employee privacy regarding medical concerns.

How Do You Know If an Accommodation Is Reasonable?

The Job Accommodation Network provides free guidance regarding accommodations for disabled workers. Although their database does not include IBS specifically, you can get ideas from looking at accommodations for other disabilities. One would imagine that comfortable access to a restroom would be considered to be a reasonable request. Modifying work schedules around times of symptom exacerbation or, when possible, allowing for work to be done from home, would also appear to be reasonable options.

The ADA also takes on the issue of "unpaid leave." This would be applicable to those of you for whom your IBS is so severe that you frequently miss work. Unpaid leave can be considered a reasonable accommodation if the employer is not able to offer another accommodation that would allow you to work and if such unpaid leave would not cause your employer undue hardship.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. EEOC Informal Discussion Letter.

  2. Fact Sheet on the EEOC’s Final Regulations Implementing the ADAAA. EEOC Home Page.

  3. The ADA: Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability. ADA - Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability.

  4. Job Accommodation Network. JAN.

  5. Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act[1]. Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.