How does the law protect people with disabilities in the workplace?
The Americans With Disabilities Act states that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals with disabilities in hiring, firing, promotion decisions, or other conditions of employment. The law applies to any employer with 15 or more employees, including government organizations, employment agencies and labor organizations.
This law also prohibits employers from discriminating against someone who has a history of disability, even if he or she is not currently disabled. For example, an employer cannot decide against hiring a job candidate because he or she has a history of cancer. Even if that person is in remission and therefore is not disabled at the time of the interview, it is still violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Employees are protected from being discriminated against based on their relationship to a disabled person as well. If you are married to someone with a disability or have a child with a disability, for example, you should not be treated any differently in the workplace.
Am I considered to be a disabled person?
The law considers anyone with a physical or mental impairment that impacts his or her quality of life as a disabled person. Individuals with a history of disability or a condition that is not a permanent disability are still considered as disabled by law. As long as you fit this description and can perform necessary job functions with or without reasonable accommodation, you are considered to be a disabled person in the eyes of the law.
How does my employer have to accommodate me?
If your employer is aware of your disability and the limitations that it creates in the workplace, the employer is required by law to make reasonable accommodations for you. Examples of reasonable accommodations that employers should make for employees include, but are not limited to:
- Providing a sign language interpreter for deaf applicants during a job interview
- Asking another employee to make sure that a blind employee is aware of the memos posted on the department’s bulletin board
- Providing a diabetic employee with frequent breaks throughout the day to test his or her blood sugar levels
- Allowing employees to have time off as needed for their medical treatments
- Adding in a wheelchair ramp so that a physically disabled individual can access all areas in the workplace
- Modifying equipment that the disabled person uses in his or her job function
Employees should be aware that employers are under no legal obligation to provide items such as glucose testing machines, prescription glasses or a hearing aid. These items must be purchased and brought to the workplace by the disabled individual.
However, these accommodations are not made available to all employees. If an employer can prove that providing reasonable accommodations puts an undue hardship on the company, they do not have to do so. Employers can show that an accommodation puts an undue hardship on the company by showing that it is difficult to make the accommodation or financially impossible.
Even if the employer does not have proof of an undue hardship, they are still not required to make accommodations if the change will lower quality or production standards.
What if a family member is disabled?
Although the Americans With Disabilities Act does protect how people with disabled family members are treated in the workplace, it does not require employers to allow employees to take time off to care for their family members. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act may cover individuals in this situation and provide them with unpaid leave from their work.
How do I get these reasonable accommodations?
It is the employee’s responsibility to ask the employer whether reasonable accommodations can be made, otherwise the employer isn’t under any legal obligation to provide it. However, if the employer notices that your job performance is suffering as a result of a medical condition or disability, they can bring it up with you and ask what accommodations you would need to improve your performance.
What do I do if my rights as a disabled person are being violated?
Victims have 180 days after an incident has occurred to file a charge against their employer. If you have been discriminated against as a result of your disability, or feel that your employer is not making reasonable accommodations for you, you may need to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Some victims may want to file a lawsuit, however, you can’t take this step without first filing a charge with the EEOC.
Once you’ve provided the EEOC with your contact and employment information as well as a description of what happened, they will process your claim and determine whether it warrants an investigation. Your employer will be notified within 10 days after the claim is filed. During the investigation, the EEOC may ask the employer for documents pertaining to the claim or may visit the premises to interview other employees or witnesses. After the investigation is complete, the EEOC will either determine that no violation occurred, or that a violation did occur. In this case, a notice of right to sue will be issued, and the victim will be able to move forward with a lawsuit. Without this notice, you cannot pursue a lawsuit against your employer.
Disabled individuals cannot be retaliated against for filing a claim against their employer. In fact, you are protected if you decide to participate in a claim in any way even if you are not the one who decided to file it. It is illegal to retaliate against someone by firing that person, lowering his or her pay, or demoting his or her position in the office. Because of this legal protection, you should never feel like you cannot file a claim to defend your rights out of fear for the consequences.