If your employer is treating you differently than others because of a medical impairment or refusing to reasonably modify your job duties or work environment to conform with limitations posed by a medical impairment, you may be the victim of disability discrimination.
What does the law say about disability discrimination in the workplace?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA, prohibits discrimination against employees because of disability in the same way the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees based on their race or sex.
In addition to banning discrimination, the ADA also affirmatively requires employers to reasonably accommodate their employees’ known disabilities. This means that the ADA requires employers to change the job duties or work environment of a position to allow an individual to perform their position so long as the changes are not too expensive or disruptive for the employer. The ADA requires both the employer and the employee to engage in an interactive process to determine if the employee’s disability can be accommodation.
The duty to provide reasonable accommodations may also include providing medical leave, including more leave than what is required under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The Rehabilitation Act (often called the Rehab Act) imposes the same ban on disability discrimination and requirement to make reasonable accommodations on federal government employers (and usually on state and local government employers).
Is my medical condition a disability?
The ADA and Rehab Act prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee because of a qualified disability. A medical condition is a disability if it is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or major bodily function.
Major Life Activities
Major life activities include such activities as
• and working.
Major Bodily Functions
Major bodily functions include such functions as
• the functioning of the immune system,
• normal cell growth,
• digestive functions,
• neurological functions,
• brain functions,
• respiratory functions,
• circulatory functions, or
• reproductive functions.
A condition that is episodic or in remission is a qualified disability even when it is inactive if it would be a disability when it is active. And the determination of whether a condition is a disability does not take into account the effect of mitigating measures such as medication, medical supplies, or equipment (other than eyeglasses or contact lenses).
Importantly, the definition of disability is supposed to be interpreted broadly to ensure ADA or Rehab Act coverage where appropriate.
What if my employer thinks I have a disability but I do not?
The ADA and Rehab Act do not only protect employees that are actually suffering from a qualifying disability. Instead, both the ADA and Rehab Act protect individuals from discrimination based on the employer perceiving the employee as disabled or based on records that the employee was disabled.
What are common examples of disability discrimination?
Failure to provide reasonable accommodations is probably the most common type of disability discrimination. Employers often fail to understand their affirmative obligation to consider and provide modifications to the duties or work environment of a position. Other employers simply refuse to modify the way a position has historically been performed.
One common form of failure to accommodate includes failure to provide leave from work for a medical condition. This may prove to be especially true during the Covid pandemic.
Another common example of disability discrimination occurs when an employee develops a disability during the course of his or her employment and the employer begins treating the individual unfairly because of the employer’s preconceived notions about the employee’s conditions. Similarly, unfair treatment may occur when an employee gets a new supervisor with discriminatory views about the employee’s conditions.
Disability discrimination can result in
• failure to hire,
• failure to promote,
• hostile work environment, or
• wrongful termination.
How can an attorney help me with a disability discrimination case?
Hiring an attorney is often advisable if you believe you have been the victim of disability discrimination in the workplace or need a reasonable accommodation. The ADA and Rehab Act place a variety of requirements on employees and employers that both sides must be careful to meet. An attorney experienced in disability discrimination and failure to accommodate can ensure you fulfill your obligations and uncover where the other side has failed to meet the requirements of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. This can help you negotiate a reasonable accommodation or resolution to an unfair employment action or hostile work environment.