The American With Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act is federal law which prohibits discrimination on the job against workers with disabilities. This Act is an extremely important form of protection for disabled workers, who can often be the victims of exclusion and unfair employment decisions and practices simply because they are disabled.
The ADA particularly prohibits discrimination in certain employment situations. For instance, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate in hiring and discharge decisions as well as in employment practices such as promotions, compensation and job training. Just about any discriminatory term, condition or privilege of employment can be held illegal in a court of law.
Californian Protection Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
Beyond federal law, each state also has its own anti-discrimination law which applies to disabled workers. In California, this law is called the Fair Housing and Employment Act. The FEHA is a broadly written law that can offer even more protection for disabled California workers who experience discrimination than the ADA.
For instance, the FEHA standard for meeting the criteria of a ‘disabled worker’ under the Act is lower than that of the ADA. The ADA requires that the discriminated worker possess a disability that substantially limits a major life activity. In the FEHA, this “substantially” limit is removed. A California worker experiencing discrimination is covered by the FEHA if he or she is limited in a major life activity, substantially or not.
There is another big difference in what amounts to a “major life activity” between the two acts. In the FEHA, which offers disabled workers greater protection from discriminatory job decisions, work is a major life activity. Therefore, under California law, if the disability of an employee limits his or her ability to perform at least one job, the qualifications of the law have been met. On the other hand, the ADA does not include work as a major life activity, and thus holds disabled employees to a higher standard in this area.
Lastly, the FEHA has less strict evaluation requirements. For purposes of applying anti-discrimination laws to individuals, an 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 ADA.
Understanding “Qualified Individual with a Disability”
Under both the ADA and the FEHA, an individual cannot receive the protection outlined in the provisions of these laws unless he or she is a “qualified individual with a disability.” In other words, the employee must be able to perform the duties of a job position. This provision prevents employees whose disability precludes them from doing the job in question from filing suits of discrimination when they are not allowed to do the job. For example, a blind worker could not be a land surveyor because his or she is not qualified for such a position, and his exclusion from such a position would not be considered discrimination.
Also, the two laws only apply if the worker filing suit is actually disabled, meaning the disability he or she has interferes with the ability to work. Here, courts examine the influence a disability has on the person’s job and ability to earn income.
Understanding ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ in Disability Discrimination Cases
Anti-discrimination laws often require an employer to provide accommodation for specific categories of workers. 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, the employer may need to make changes to the work place or to workplace policy in order to meet reasonable accommodation requirements. For example, an employer may need to modify job duties, decreasing a disabled worker’s workload or providing more break time, in order for him to perform job duties effectively.
It is important to note that accommodations are not without some limitations. For instance, the law requires that in order to receive accommodations, a disabled employee must first request it. The requested accommodation must be reasonable and the employer has the right to refuse requests that would cause undue hardship to the business.
If you think your rights as a disabled worker have been violated due to a discriminatory act, employment decisions or employment practice, do not hesitate to contact the experienced professionals at Shegerian & Associates. Our amply qualified team of attorneys is standing by to give your case the justice it deserves.