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 the law, and often think they have no choice but to put up with discrimination. But oftentimes there is a choice. Read on to learn more about this issue.

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 disabled workers, who are at higher risk of workplace discrimination—such as exclusion or unfair employment decisions and practices—simply because they are disabled.

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.

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 can offer even more protection than the ADA to California workers who experience disability discrimination.

Limited in a Major Life Activity

For instance, the FEHA standard for meeting the criteria of a “disabled worker” in the first place is lower than with 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 they are limited in a major life activity at all, substantially or not.

In California, Work Counts as a Major Life Activity

There is another big difference between the two laws when it comes to the definition of a “major life activity.” In the FEHA, work is a major life activity. Therefore, under California law, if the disability of an employee limits their ability to perform at least one job, the qualifications of the law have been met and any disability discrimination in the workplace is illegal.

More Lenient Evaluation Requirements

Lastly, the 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

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 disability when it comes to promotions, compensation, and job training.

Understanding the Term “Qualified Individual with a Disability”

Under both the ADA and the FEHA, an individual cannot receive the protections offered by these laws unless they are a “qualified individual with a disability.”

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.

Additionally, the ADA and FEHA only apply if the worker filing suit is actually disabled when it comes to their job responsibilities, meaning the disability their disability must interfere in some way with their ability to work, but does not prevent them from being qualified to do the job outright so long as they are given some extra accommodation.

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 classic example. For another example, an employer may need to provide a larger computer screen to an employee with serious vision impairment or who suffers debilitating headaches from excessive eye strain. Another example may be something as simple as providing leave or time off.

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. It never hurts to ask about these things! Asking for accommodation is the first step to getting accommodation.

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.

We specialize in disability discrimination, and for years we have helped clients in Los Angeles and across Southern California get the resolution they deserve. If you have a case we will fight for you with passion and ferocity, no matter how big or powerful the company that violated your rights.

Contact us today for a consultation! 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!