Asthma and Sensitivity to Smoke May Be Protected Medical Conditions at Workplace

Asthma and sensitivity to tobacco smoke and other pollutants are conditions that have been recognized by courts as a protected disability at workplace, entitling the workers suffering from those conditions to a reasonable accommodation.
In County of Fresno v. Fair Employment & Housing Commission (1991), the employer (the county) argued that hypersensitivity to smoke is either a non-handicapping respiratory disorder, not covered by the California disability laws, or an “environmental limitation” rather than a physical limitation. The court has rejected both arguments, finding that because of the respiratory disorder, exposure to tobacco smoke produced by other employees substantially limited the Plaintiff’s ability to breathe, rendering the Plaintiff “handicapped” and covered by ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) / FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act). In that case, the employer actually attempted to reasonably accommodate the plaintiff, and the following actions were taken: smokers used desktop air filtration machines, employees kept windows open, management separated Plaintiff’s desk from the desks of smokers, Plaintiff was offered an alternative position in another department, where smoking was not permitted. Because all of the above accommodations proved to be either futile or ineffective, the court still found that the employer failed to reasonably accommodate Plaintiff.

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