Disability discrimination claims have been on the rise for the past several years. These claims go beyond the most obvious cases of discrimination to more complex issues involving pregnancy and even worker’s compensation. A look at the numbers on the awards of successful claims against employers makes it imperative that they remain informed on the top issues concerning disability discrimination in order to prevent liability losses.
For employees, there are significant advantages to knowing the rights and remedies available when disability discrimination becomes an issue. The primary source of disability discrimination law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees should be aware of the details of this federal law as well as the types of remedies available when a violation has occurred.
The ADA Covers Many Employers
The ADA is federal law that applies to a number of American businesses. Specifically, the statute applies to any employer with 15 or more employees working part-time or full-time in the previous working year.
This means that a company with fewer than 15 employees may not be liable under federal law for disability discrimination. However, under state law, the company may still see litigation. Most states have enacted laws similar to federal disability discrimination law, but affecting business with fewer employees.
1. Meeting the Definition of ‘Disability’ According to the Law
Not all injuries or physical ailments experienced and dealt with at work are considered disabilities for purposes of the ADA. In order to prove disability discrimination, an employee must meet the criteria for a disabled worker as defined in the statute.
This means that the employee must have an impairment, physical or mental, that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include those affecting the human senses such as seeing or hearing and others like walking, talking, and even reading capability.
An employee could also prove disability by showing there is a record or history of this kind of physical impairment. Usually this is done through doctor’s reports and medical records. Finally, an employee could show that he or she is regarded as having an impairment as described above.
Disability claims arise from a variety of impairments including paralysis, allergies, and even learning disabilities or intellectual impairments. The best way to determine whether a disability qualifies for protection under the ADA is to consult an experienced employment rights attorney.
2. Receiving Reasonable Accommodations for a Disability at Work
According to the ADA, an employer must meet the requirements of any requested accommodation provided by a disabled worker unless doing so would cause undue harm to the business. According to the EEOC, a reasonable accommodation request includes changes in the work environment or business operations that assists a disabled person with performing job duties, enjoying the benefits and privileges of a position or applying for a job.
When an employer fails to respond or responds inadequately to an employee’s accommodation request, the company may be liable for violation of the ADA. However, it is imperative that the request be reasonable. Also, any request that is too difficult or too expensive in light of the size of the business, its financial resources and its needs may not be upheld in court.
3. Proving Harassment Based on Disability Discrimination at Work
The ADA also prohibits discriminatory harassment due to the disability of a worker. It’s a violation of the law to harass someone with a disability or a perceived disability that is not transitory and minor whether or not the actual disability exists. Such broad terms are meant to protect a particularly vulnerable category of workers who can often fall victim to unwarranted harassment at work that is against the law, even at places of employment.
Additionally the harassment based on disability must be so severe that it creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision. Thus, off-hand remarks in reference to a disability that are sporadic and neutral in nature may not result in a violation of discrimination laws. However, persistent demeaning behavior, demotions and beyond could all result in liability.
4. Proving Retaliation Based on a Disability Discrimination Claim
The ADA also prohibits acts of retaliation when disability discrimination is involved. Proving that an employer’s adverse employment decision was a result of participation in disability discrimination court proceeds or a result of filing a disability discrimination charge or complaint rests on the shoulders of the employee.
If the employee can prove that an employer took retaliatory action based on the employee’s involvement with disability discrimination, the employer could be held liable under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the ADA.
5. Proving Disability Discrimination at the Application and Interview Stage
It’s illegal for an employer to inquire in an interview or in the application procesd about an applicant’s medical condition or medical history. Employers are also restricted from asking a potential employee to take a medical exam or to identify a disability. Violations of these restrictions when proven can result in disability discrimination liability.
Even if a disability is obvious at the interview stage, the employer cannot ask about its nature. However, it is within the boundary of disability discrimination law to ask an employer how they would perform job duties with or without accommodation.
Proving Disability Discrimination
The best way to prove disability discrimination is to rely on the experts. Employment right attorneys are the best resource when it comes to addressing disability discrimination disputes. An employment law attorney generally has extensive knowledge about the best way to prove disability discrimination as well as the rights and remedies that are available at both the state and federal levels.
If you think your rights as a disabled worker may have been violated, but are unsure of how to prove your case, consult an attorney as early on in your dispute as possible. A skilled and competent attorney can grant you the necessary guidance you need to bring a successful charge or complaint in a court of law.