Disability Discrimination

The law generally prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of disability. The law also requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations that allow them to do their jobs.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against otherwise qualified employees on the basis of an actual or perceived disability. Disability discrimination can occur in many areas of employment. These include hiring, firing, layoffs, compensation, benefits, job assignments, promotions, training, and other conditions of employment.

In addition to protecting employees with real or perceived disabilities from discrimination, the ADA also protects employees from workplace discrimination based on their association with a person who has a disability.

Disability-based harassment, such as a supervisor’s demeaning comments about one’s disability, can be illegal if the harassment is so frequent or severe that it creates an abusive work environment.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

The ADA also requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for the known disabilities of employees. Reasonable accommodations are steps an employer can take to make it possible for an employee to do his or her job. In general, if an employee with a disability needs an accommodation to do his or her job, the employer should provide it unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer. The purpose of the reasonable accommodation requirement is to allow people with disabilities to enjoy the same privileges and benefits of employment as people without disabilities.

Reasonable Accommodations Can Include:

  • Physical changes to the workplace;
  • Access to interpreters;
  • Assistive equipment;
  • Different work schedules or hours;
  • Job restructuring;
  • Temporary leaves of absence;
  • Temporary telework;
  • Reassignments to vacant positions.

Employers are only required to provide reasonable accommodations, which are not necessarily the accommodations an employee requests. Whether an accommodation is reasonable and whether it poses an undue hardship for the employer will depend on the facts of the specific situation. To identity and implement a reasonable accommodation, employees and employer should engage in an interactive process, where both sides work together to understand the employee’s disability and evaluate the possible accommodations.

Here Are Some Examples of Conduct That Could Be Disability Discrimination:

  • Your supervisor denies you a reasonable accommodation for a medically-documented disability that would have helped you perform all your job duties, then terminates you for not adequately performing those duties;
  • You have, or used to have, a mental or physical impairment, and an employer denies you a job, demotes you, or fires you because that disability, even though you are able to do the job;
  • You are asked about your disability at an interview, then denied the job or promotion even though you were the best-qualified candidate;
  • An employer requires you to undergo an unnecessary medical exam as part of an interview, then denies you the job because of the results of the exam;
  • Your employer fails to provide you with a reasonable accommodation for your disability, even though you requested one and provided any necessary supporting information.

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    If you believe you have suffered from disability discrimination or need assistance working out a reasonable accommodation with your employer, attorney Tim Coffield is available to speak with you.