Is Sleep Apnea a disability? The question of whether Sleep Apnea is a disability is a legal one concerning state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The short answer to whether Sleep Apnea is a disability: maybe. The Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and related state laws don't define what constitutes a disability in black and white terms. Rather, the question as to whether Sleep Apnea is a disability, or whether any other disorder is a disability for that matter, rests on an all things considered facts-and-circumstances test of the extent to which the disorder in question limits an individual in a major life activity. What rises to the level of a "major life activity" is its own legal can of worms.
The question of whether Sleep Apnea is a disability will now be tested by Elsie Hinton, a North Carolina woman with Sleep Apnea who was fired by the state Department of Transportation last July for repeatedly falling asleep on the job. Ms. Hinton, who worked as an artist in the DOT's Communications department, used CPAP. But at the time of her dismissal, her CPAP was not working, so she was not getting restorative sleep, and got caught sleeping on the job. Her attorney, John Campion, said Ms. Hinton had no control over falling asleep at her desk. “The problem with sleep apnea is you really don't get a good night's sleep,” Campion said, likening the condition to epilepsy.
The jury is still out, literally and figuratively, on whether Ms. Hinton will prevail in her discrimination suit. We will keep you updated. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear members' perspectives on whether her case has merit.
Please keep in mind that even if Ms. Hilton shows that Sleep Apnea is a disability, she will have to show that her former employer failed to make reasonable accomodations for the disability.