Incontinence in the Workplace, A Growing Concern in Business Responsibility

The workforce is aging. The CDC reports that the number of people aged 65 or older in the workforce has grown 117% in the past 20 years, while people older than 75 still in the workforce also ballooned 117%.

An aging workforce is difficult for business owners to maintain.

Laws protecting against disabilities and discrimination are on the rise, leaving many employers in new territory. Incontinence is on the rise, and it’s an issue facing both men and women. While once easily manageable at home, older workers are finding it to be an increasingly embarrassing and real problem.

What’s Incontinence?

Incontinence is a growing issue for older adults, and it’s a lack of control of a person’s urination and/or defecation. An embarrassing condition, the loss of control over the bowels or bladder leads to many older adults being reprimanded and even losing their job.

Some people will suffer from small leaks that are able to be controlled with incontinence products.

But other men and women aren’t this lucky,

The causes for this condition can be:

  • Enlarged prostate
  • Tumors
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Menopause
  • Prostate cancer
  • Neurological disease
  • Hysterectomy
  • Aging

Incontinence must be involuntary for it to fit into the definition. Little or no time to get to the restroom would fall into this definition. If a person was forced to hold their urine for hours and urinated, this would not be considered incontinence.

Protection Under Disability Laws

The ADA requires that employers do not discriminate against an employee with a disability. While this may seem straightforward, the definition of a “disability” is what’s the key deciding factor in the case of incontinence.

A medical doctor will need to determine if your incontinence falls into the classification of:

  • A physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities.

This criteria would seem to be met in the case of incontinence because the ability to hold in your urine or bowels is vital to major life activities.

Involuntary loss of control would fall into this definition.

Employers may not know that such a condition exists, and it’s not up to the employer to prod an employee to find out what medical conditions they may have that would fall under the ADA. An employee can ask for special accommodations if they help the issue.

An employee should:

  • Inform the employer of the problem
  • Ask for the proper accommodations

The key is for doctors to get involved and explain your needs to employers. An explanation of the condition and the fact that accidents may occur ought to be fully discussed with the employer. If the employer knows all of this, they will be required to make accommodations.

A few of the accommodations that may be made include:

  • More frequent breaks to the restroom
  • The ability to clean up after an accident

Your employer has a right to be involved in the process under “inter-active process.” Employers don’t need to follow through with a specific recommendation, but it’s the employer’s duty to discuss the matter with the employee and find an amicable solution to remedy the problem.

If the accommodations are too burdensome to the employer, this may be a defense to not provide accommodations.

Anyone dealing with the food industry may be let go from their position. The sanitary requirements in the industry may find that the health issue is too difficult to accommodate. There may also be issues in the public service and retail industry where an employee simply cannot leave their position without negatively impacting the business.

Businesses do have the right to know about the needed accommodations before any legal action can be taken against the company. A person may also have to prove that the accommodations will suffice in remedying the issue.

For example, if a person has an enlarged prostate or another medical condition wherein even if extra restroom breaks are offered will not make a difference, the employer may not be required to provide these specific accommodations.

It’s a circumstantial decision that must be brought to the attention of the employer and then worked out in a way that upholds laws against discrimination. Most businesses will work with employees to ensure that their medical and health accommodations are satisfied within reason.

But employees facing incontinence issues must ensure that their condition is classified as a disability.