5 Examples of Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Equality and inclusivity are keys to a productive and engaged workforce. However, disability discrimination undermines the effort to foster a harmonious working environment, as it usually develops an unwelcoming and toxic company culture.

Are you experiencing discrimination as a disabled employee? You’re not alone. ADA National Network reports that a considerable 10% of working adults with disabilities experience prejudice in their workplaces, so it’s a critical issue requiring immediate intervention.

This article will delve into the details of disability discrimination acts and explore a few workplace disability discrimination examples to help you stay on top of the problem.

What is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination occurs when people with severe physical or mental conditions become victims of prejudice and unfair treatment due to their disabilities. It fosters mistrust and resentment within the workplace, severely impacting the victim’s mental health and the company’s internal operations.

Disability discrimination at work can also lead to lawsuits, especially if the management fails to deal with the issue promptly. Complaints fall under employment disability acts protecting the rights of disabled workers, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a law defining “disability” and prohibiting discrimination in several settings, such as public accommodations and workplaces. It upholds the rights of disabled staff as individuals and workers, giving them a platform to tackle issues about unfair treatment in workplaces.

Moreover, the ADA makes major life activities more accessible by requiring companies to provide necessary adjustments to support and accommodate disabled staff. For instance, employers must install wheelchair-friendly ramps or offer adequate breaks to those needing them. Lastly, it protects employees with disabled dependents.

What is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

The Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on the worker’s race, color, religion, and disability. According to the law, discrimination may refer to the refusal to hire or discharge workers or segregating employees based on the mentioned factors.

The ADA and Title VII define “disability” similarly as a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting life activities like work. Individual states usually model their disability discrimination policies after these two laws. For instance, California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA) provides leaves to support disabled and non-disabled workers with disabled dependents.

Examples of Disability Harassment and Discrimination

Disability discrimination in the workplace is against the law, but it’s unfortunate that many employers still fail to comply with federal regulations and provide the necessary accommodations. So, it’s important to recognize when your rights are violated by learning about different types of disability discrimination. Here are seven disability harassment examples common in the workplace.

1. Refusal to hire a disabled candidate

Employers can’t make work-related decisions, such as hiring, termination, pay paise, and reassignments, based on a candidate’s disabilities. Otherwise, the employer violates the law and would be subject to an investigation.

Remember, employers can still fire workers with disabilities that negatively impact their work, like if it causes severe pain or mood swings. However, if they only need time to recuperate, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) safeguards them from termination.

2. Failure to accommodate a disability

The ADA requires employers to accommodate disabilities to help disabled staff with their duties. For instance, they could install tactile signages with braille to aid the visually impaired in navigation.

However, employees could deny these accommodations if it’s extremely difficult or financially impossible for the company. Small businesses typically find it too costly to renovate their building and install wheelchair ramps. Hence, they won’t suffer penalties for their inaccessibility.

3. Refusal to support a disabled employee

Employers must also offer work arrangements that make it easier for disabled staff to perform their duties. For instance, they could offer flexible schedules to allow eligible workers time to recuperate from their conditions or care for their disabled dependents.

While the FMLA provides 12 work weeks of leave for severe health conditions, employers may supplement it with additional leaves. Refusing to support disabled employees renders them unable to perform to the best of their abilities.

4. Harassment of a disabled employee

Harassing someone due to their disability is a form of discrimination and is, therefore, a violation of the law. Harassment entails offensive jokes, comments, suggestive gestures, or physical and verbal threats. These actions create a hostile work environment that’s unfair to disabled staff.

5. Requesting an applicant to undergo a medical exam before the job offer

While it’s natural for employees to undergo a medical examination, employers can’t request it before offering the job. Doing so implies they consider physical or mental ability a criterion for candidates, violating the law.

Furthermore, if the employer requests medical exams, they must do so for every candidate. Singling out implies discrimination and, therefore, also violates the law.

6. Refusal to promote an employee due to a dependent’s disability

You may recall the ADA also covers workers’ disabled dependents. As such, it’s illegal for employers to make job-related decisions based on whether the employee has a disabled relative.

If the management passes a promotion over an employee with a disabled spouse, justifying the action as the inability to commit to their duties fully, the company could be subject to legal action. The basis for promotion didn’t revolve around qualification or skill, but rather the spouse’s disability.

Common Causes of Disability Discrimination

The disability discrimination in the workplace examples mentioned begs the question: Why are disabled people discriminated against? Let’s discuss some of the most common causes of disability discrimination in the workplace.

1. Social and cultural barriers

Disabilities carry stigmatizations, making daily interactions complicated for those who have them. Often, these stigmas are at the root of discrimination, especially in the workplace, where non-disabled workers may perceive inclusive accommodations to be unfair.

2. Isolation and lack of inclusivity

Disabilities tend to isolate disabled individuals from others, especially in non-inclusive environments. Fortunately, the ADA addresses this issue by requiring accommodations and prohibiting segregation, which may otherwise encourage disabled employees to leave.

3. Lack of accommodation

Disabled staff could also feel isolated when their working environment doesn’t accommodate their conditions, such as when wheelchair users don’t have ramps to navigate. The ADA solves this problem by requiring public areas and workplaces to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals. However, many companies still fail to do so.

4. Unemployment

Disabled people experience a higher unemployment rate than non-disabled job seekers. This disparity leads to discrimination, as it may create a cycle of frustration and resentment, especially when disabled people are denied work despite being able to perform well.

5. Poverty

Similarly, the combination of poverty and disability exacerbates the resentment between disabled and non-disabled employees. Moreover, the lack of access to equal career advancement opportunities due to poor finances can stunt professional growth among disabled workers.

How to Prove Disability Discrimination?

Reporting disability discrimination in the workplace to authorities is critical to building an inclusive and equal organization. However, the process might be tedious if you can’t prove their occurrence. Consider the following reminders to prove discrimination legally when they happen.

1. Meet the definition of “disability” according to the law

The ADA doesn’t consider all conditions as disabilities for eligibility. Your condition must be a physical or mental impairment that limits a significant life activity to qualify under its protection.

2. Gather evidence to build a stronger case

Leverage available information, evidence, and records to help solidify your case. For instance, if the employer isn’t providing reasonable accommodation for your disability, take photos and record videos of the working environment as proof during legal investigations. Communication records, such as emails and SMS messages, also build your accusation.

3. Proving harassment based on disability discrimination at work

Again, harassment based on disability is a violation of the law. It includes off-hand remarks about a disability, persistent demeaning behavior, and demotions that create a hostile work environment or result in an adverse employment decision. Record these instances as they happen to help your indictment.

4. Proving retaliation based on a disability discrimination claim

The ADA prohibits retaliation toward legal actions taken by disabled employees. For example, an employer might make an adverse employment decision for a worker in a disability discrimination court. If you can prove this claim, the employer could be liable under the ADA and Title VII.

5. Proving discrimination at the application and interview stage

Employers can’t inquire about an applicant’s medical condition or history during the application process. The law also prohibits them from asking candidates to take a medical exam before making a job offer. Record your communications as proof when filing a case if a prospective company performs these actions.

That said, remember that employers are allowed to ask about the disabled candidate’s accommodation requirements.

How to Prevent Disability Discrimination: 4 Steps to Take

The best way to avoid violating disability discrimination laws is by taking steps to prevent them in the first place. Here are some steps the company may take to minimize these incidents in the workplace.

1. Hire disabled people

Creating a diverse workforce is an excellent way to foster equality and support among people with different backgrounds and experiences. Hiring disabled people educates non-disabled employees about the former’s living experiences. Doing so also shows staff, clients, and other organizations about the company’s commitment to fostering equality and inclusivity.

2. Foster inclusivity

Your management must encourage inclusive behavior in the workplace. Employers could make the workplace fairer for underrepresented or disadvantaged employees, improve accessibility and accommodation for the disabled, and encourage team leaders, managers, and executives to be role models.

3. Use sensitive language

It’s essential to be aware of the appropriate language when discussing disabilities, and to talk to disabled people directly or in work communications. Employers should discourage offensive and harmful terms, including what some might consider jokes. In this regard, it’s best to ask the disabled person directly about their preferred language.

4. Put policies in place

Implementing prevention strategies is easier if set in stone, so create a specific policy protecting disabled people from discrimination and harassment. It should support inclusive conversations and educate the workforce about disabilities and disabled employees’ living experiences.

Moreover, the policy should also support allies—non-disabled people who help promote inclusivity. Lastly, it should also include penalties for workers, including managers and executives, in case of violations.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Disability Discrimination

Can I sue for wrongful termination due to disability?

Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits workplace discrimination in most instances, including and especially termination on the grounds of disability. If an employer violates this provision, consult your attorney to determine the appropriate actions.

Can I be fired for my disability?

You can’t get fired for your disability. Even though most employers may fire employees for any reason on an at-will employment basis, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects disabled workers from the same fate. You could also take legal action against the violating company.

What is the disability act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination and guarantees equal opportunities for disabled people in several areas, including employment. It also requires employers to make reasonable disability accommodations in the workplace.

How do you accommodate disabilities in the workplace?

Accommodating disabilities in the workplace involves a welcoming environment place for disabled people. For example, employers can make movement accessible by installing ramps for wheelchair users or adding tactile paving for the visually impaired. Companies can also provide additional leave for employees with critical conditions and require frequent hospital visits.

Are there equal job opportunities for persons with disabilities?

Unfortunately, there’s a significant discrepancy between job opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people. The US Department of Labor reports that only 19.1% of disabled people had jobs in 2021, compared to 63.7% of those without disabilities. However, trends point to the gap gradually decreasing over the years.

Where do I file a disability discrimination claim?

To file a claim, you must contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or its state district office. They’re responsible for investigating allegations to determine if the EEOC or a state agency shall represent you in court. However, remember that you must file immediately, given the 180-day deadline starting from the day the discrimination occurred.

Elevate the Workplace by Eliminating Disability Discrimination

Disability in employment is a sensitive issue, especially since one in ten disabled adults experiences discrimination in their workplace. The good news is that you can expect this number to decrease as employers become more aware of the law.

Fortunately, the ADA and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act empower disabled employees to take legal action against companies discriminating against them, especially as they try to contribute to society in the workplace.

Are you a victim of disability discrimination? If so, seek legal representation as soon as possible. The employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates are ready to seek justice on your behalf. Contact us today by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.


Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.