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About Thyroid Disorders
There are many different thyroid disorders that exist. The most common ones include: Graves' disease, Hashimoto's disease, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer, and thyroiditis. Key terms used to describe a specific thyroid disorder include:
- Hashimoto's Disease: Hashimoto's disease appears to be an inherited condition and is also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. It is most common in women who are between 30 and 50 years of age. With Hashimoto's Disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland in the neck, prohibiting it from producing hormones. Symptoms of Hashimoto's Disease are feelings of fullness/tightness in throat, trouble swallowing, swelling or bump in the front of the neck, tiredness, forgetfulness, depression, coarse dry skin, slow heartbeat, weight gain, constipation and intolerance to cold. Many people have no symptoms at all.
- Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. It is 8 to 10 times more common in women than in men and is the 3rd most common thyroid problem in the US. Graves' disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems, making it difficult to diagnose. It can also cause a wide variety of symptoms including sudden weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, tremors, sweating, changes in menstrual patterns, increased sensitivity to heat, change in bowel patterns, an enlarged thyroid gland at base of neck, fatigue, muscle weakness, and difficulty sleeping.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone. The most common cause of low thyroid production is Hashimoto's Disease, which is an autoimmune disease. The symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency and develop slowly over years. Symptoms include increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin and hair, puffy face, hoarse voice, elevated cholesterol level, unexplained weight gain, muscle cramps, pain and stiffness in joints, muscle weakness, heavier menstrual periods, tiredness, and depression.
- Thyroid Cancer: Thyroid cancer is a cancerous tumor or growth located within the thyroid gland. Thyroid cancer is uncommon, accounting for only about 1 out of every 100 cancers in the United States. Thyroid cancer is often discovered by patients themselves when they see or feel a nodule or lump on the front of the neck.
- Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis is a general term used to describe different disorders in which the thyroid gland becomes inflamed.
Thyroid Disorders and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Thyroid Disorders
People with thyroid disorders may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people who are aging will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.
A grounds keeping employee with hypothyroidism disclosed that he has trouble when needing to work outside during the winter due to the cold.
The employer provided the individual with heated clothing to wear while outside as well as periodic rest breaks to allow the individual to come back into the building more often to reduce exposure to the cold.
An employee with hyperthyroidism disclosed that he is very sensitive to warm temperatures, but the comfortable temperature for the building would be too cool for others to be comfortable.
The employer agreed to allow the individual to have a portable air conditioner at his workstation as an accommodation.
An applicant with hypothyroidism stated that his condition causes him to take longer than most people when using the restroom due to constipation.
The employer agreed to move the workstation to be close to the restroom and also arranged to allow a modified break schedule to accommodate these lengthier restroom needs.
An employee was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer and is having trouble with attendance due to the fatigue limitations associated with the chemotherapy.
The employee is running low on paid sick leave. The employer allowed the individual to work from home to enable the individual to work more easily as well as providing additional unpaid leave as an accommodation on days when the individual simply cannot work.
An applicant with hyperthyroidism disclosed that she has difficulty sleeping because of her condition and may have problems making it into work punctually.
The employer agrees to allow the individual to have some flexibility in their start time and make up the time at the end of their shift to accommodate this need.