Being an employee with a disability can be difficult to navigate, but it is important that you understand your legal rights to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. One in four Americans has some sort of disability before the age of 67, but only about 60% of those with work-limiting disabilities receive accommodations for their working needs. This is considered disability discrimination and may be grounds for a viable claim.
A disability discrimination lawyer can represent you if you have been subject to disability discrimination at work and fight for reasonable job accommodations, job reinstatement, and compensation for lost wages and pain and suffering.
Disability Discrimination: FEHA and ADA Violations in California
Disability discrimination is sadly very common in the workplace. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of their rights under state and federal law, and often think they have no choice but to put up with discrimination. However, there are protections that you have as a worker with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA):
The American With Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act is federal law that prohibits disability discrimination on the job. The ADA is a crucial protection for “qualified” disabled workers, who are at higher risk of workplace discrimination—such as exclusion or unfair employment decisions and practices—simply because they have a physical or mental disability.
Employees are “qualified” if they are able to perform job functions with or without work accommodations. This means that, when you apply for a job, an employer must only evaluate if you are “qualified” based on whether you can perform all the job’s essential functions, regardless of whether or not you have a disability or require accommodations.
In the workplace, this means that an employee must actually be able to perform the essential duties of a job position. For instance, a blind person will not be hired to fly a jet plane, and an existing pilot who goes blind will lose their clearance to fly, though this does not preclude them being reassigned to a desk job. This is not disability discrimination. This provision prevents employees from filing suits of discrimination when they are not allowed to do a job that they physically cannot do.
The ADA protects individuals who have a disability that substantially limits one of their life activities. There is no specific list of conditions that the ADA covers, but some of the most commonly covered medical conditions include:
- Intellectual disabilities, such as autism or Down Syndrome
- Mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or major depressive disorder
- Multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy
- Being wheelchair-bound
- Cerebral palsy
Generally speaking, ADA violations occur whenever an employer commits disability-related discrimination against a job applicant or existing worker when it comes to the terms and working conditions of their employment. Additionally, the ADA applies to employers who have 15 or more employees.
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
Beyond federal law, the states also have their own anti-discrimination laws that apply to disabled workers. In California, this law is called the Fair Housing and Employment Act. The FEHA is a broadly written law that often offers even more protection than the ADA to California workers who experience disability discrimination.
Among other things, the FEHA requires that California employers that have more than 5 employees provide job applicants or employees with reasonable accommodations if they have a disability or medical condition that limits their ability to perform essential job functions. While the ADA requires that a disability substantially limits at least one life activity, the FEHA only requires that that a limit exists. It does not have to be a substantial one.
Another major difference between these two laws is that FEHA has less strict evaluation requirements. For purposes of applying anti-discrimination laws to individuals, a physical evaluation may be conducted to determine whether the worker is disabled.
Under the ADA, the disabled employee is required to take the evaluation in a “mitigated” state—in other words, in a way that lessens the influence of the disability. For example, wearing glasses during an evaluation to determine disability based on loss of vision might be required under the ADA. Under the FEHA, however, a mitigated state during the evaluation is not required.
Moreover, even the perception of a disability which leads to discriminatory acts is illegal under the FEHA. Thus, it is easier to gain coverage by California state law under the FEHA than under the federal ADA.
Examples of Illegal Discrimination
Discrimination under the ADA or FEHA can take many forms. In general, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of disability when it comes to hiring or terminating that worker. It is also illegal to consider a disability when it comes to promotions, compensation, and job training. Other types of discrimination may include the following, if they are because of a person’s disability status:
- Refusing to interview or hire a job applicant
- Requiring a medical or physical examination that other workers are not required to have
- Disqualifying a worker from a job training program
- Denying a promotion or reducing pay
- Terminating an employment contract
- Creating a hostile work environment
- Taking unfair disciplinary action against a disabled employee
- Refusing to put an employee in client- or customer-facing roles
- Workplace harassment
- Failing to provide reasonable accommodation at work
Understanding “Reasonable Accommodation” in Disability Cases
In California, employers must provide what is called “reasonable accommodation” for disabled workers in order to avoid any FEHA or ADA violations. When this accommodation is not provided, or is provided insufficiently, an employer could be in violation of the law.
In the context of disability discrimination, this means the employer may need to make changes to the workplace or to workplace policy. Wheelchair ramps are a well-known example of a reasonable accommodation. Other examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Hearing disability tools such as hearing aids or mobility aids
- Larger computer screens for employees with serious vision impairment or those who suffer debilitating headaches from excessive eye strain
- The option for leave or time off for doctor’s appointments, medical treatment, and care
- The option to relocate one’s desk to an accessible area
- Schedule modifications
Generally speaking, in addition to physical accommodations like those, disabled employees may require more break time, a reduced overall workload, or assistance in specific tasks, in order for them to perform their jobs effectively.
The “Reasonable” in “Reasonable Accommodation”
It is important to note that accommodations for disabled workers are not unlimited. For starters, the law requires that, in order to receive accommodation, a disabled employee must first request it.
Additionally, the requested accommodation must be “reasonable,” which means that an employer has the right to refuse requests that would cause undue hardship to the business. So if you need an accommodation that would cost a great deal of money or manpower, it would not be a FEHA or ADA violation for the employer to refuse this.
For instance, it would likely be infeasible for an employer to install an elevator in an old building that only has stairs. However, some stairways are capable of accommodating a wheelchair lift on the railing, and if so then it may be reasonable for an employer to install such a system. Asking for accommodation is the first step to getting accommodation.
Proving Disability Discrimination in the Workplace
Your company has a legal responsibility to protect you from disability discrimination at work. If this responsibility is not upheld, it is important to know that you have the right to protect yourself and seek legal action against your employer. The first step that you should take if you suspect disability discrimination at work is to retain the aid of legal experts such as experienced disability discrimination attorneys.
Your attorney will work as your legal advocate and take the burden off of your shoulders during this time. Document collection is an important part of building a solid disability discrimination claim. With that in mind, document everything that may show you were discriminated against due to your disability, as this will become evidence to back up your claim. This includes:
- Emails, texts, and voicemails from co-workers or your boss that may show discriminatory intent
- Memos or other verbal statements that show some type of action was taken against you because of your disability
- Names and contact information of co-worker who may be willing to testify for your claim
Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Expenses related to disability discrimination are called compensatory damages. Employees who have successfully filed for and won against disability discrimination may recover the following:
- Back and front pay
- Attorney’s fees and costs
- Affirmative relief such as reinstatement
To learn more about the damages recoverable in an ADA Disability lawsuit, consult the advice of a lawyer.
Employers may defend a claim of disability discrimination by demonstrating the following:
- Undue hardship
- Direct threat defense
- Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ)
- Legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons
It is important to seek the guidance of a qualified lawyer to know more about the proper defenses in an ADA disability lawsuit in California.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, there are some limitations and considerations regarding what constitutes reasonable accommodation. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Undue Hardship, where employers are not required to provide accommodations that would impose an undue hardship on the operation of their business.
- Essential job functions, where employers are not obligated to accommodate individuals in a way that would allow them to perform non-essential job functions. Reasonable accommodations are typically related to essential job functions, which are the fundamental duties of the position.
- Employers do not have to provide accommodations that would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of the employee or others in the workplace, which must be based on objective evidence and a reasonable assessment of the situation.
- Seniority systems and collective bargaining agreements may impact the accommodation process. Employers may have to make accommodations, but they cannot violate established seniority systems or terms of a collective bargaining agreement.
- While financial hardship can be a factor in assessing undue hardship, employers are encouraged to seek external funding or grants to offset accommodation costs.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an "individual with a disability" is defined as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes people who have a history of such impairments or are regarded as having such impairments. However, this excludes impairments with actual or expected duration of six months or less.
Let Us Fight for You Against Disability Discrimination
If you think you have been the victim of FEHA or ADA violations, or other forms of disability-based discrimination, Shegerian & Associates is here to help. There is no excuse for disability discrimination in the workplace and the attorneys at Shegerian & Associates have made it their mission to fight for those who have been fired, demoted, harassed, or otherwise discriminated against due to physical or mental disabilities.
You can expect an ADA attorney at Shegerian & Associates to have years of experience in specializing in disability discrimination, having helped clients across different states get the resolution they deserve. If you have a case, our ADA lawyer will fight for you with passion and ferocity, no matter how big or powerful the company that violated your rights.
If you’re seeking the services of a Los Angeles disability discrimination attorney or an ADA lawyer in California, contact us today for a consultation with our attorneys! It’s completely free. In fact you don’t pay anything unless we win a cash verdict or settlement in your favor. Let Shegerian & Associates fight for you!