Disability Discrimination Laws Explained
Disabled workers have the right to a dignified workplace and a career where they get the same opportunities as their typically abled coworkers. Unfortunately, some employers fail to support their disabled employees, discriminating against them instead. Disability discrimination comes in different forms and may not be always be a verbal or physical affair.
Below, we will explore five examples of disability discrimination that commonly occur in the workplace — but before that, it’s important to understand how the law defines disability discrimination.
Am I Protected Under Disability Discrimination Laws?
Discrimination can be devastating for your career and health, and it is illegal in all 50 states under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some states even have additional laws that protect disabled workers on top of what they get under federal law.
You are protected under the ADA if you are a qualified worker and:
- You have a physical or mental disability or impairment that substantially limits your ability to engage in one or more major life activities (basic tasks or bodily functions),
- You’ve had a history of disability or impairment (such as cancer in remission), or
- Your employer actually believes you are disabled, even if they are incorrect.
You’re a qualified worker if you’re able to complete the job tasks that are fundamental to your position with or without reasonable accommodation by your company. The law requires your employer to work with you on adjustments or modifications that will allow you to complete your work – so long as the accommodations don’t create an “undue hardship” for the company.
Disability discrimination can take many forms, not all of them easy to spot.
What are the Most Common Forms of Disability Discrimination?
Below are five of the most common examples of disability discrimination in the workplace.
1. Refusing to Hire a Job Applicant Based on Their Disability
It may have happened to you. You had a promising phone interview with a new company but when you went in person, they cut the interview short and dismissed you once they saw your disability. Or you had a great interview process until you asked the company about reasonable accommodation for your disability and they retracted their job offer shortly after.
According to the law, a prospective employer is generally not allowed to ask you disability-related questions or require you to get a medical examination until after they have made you a conditional job offer.
There is, however, an exception. If you have an obvious disability or you willingly disclose your disability, the company can ask limited questions about what types of accommodations you would require (if any) prior to making an offer.
After you get a job offer, the company can ask limited disability-related questions or require a medical exam as long as all applicants are treated the same way.
Unfortunately, employers who discriminate rarely admit the real reason behind their decisions. Even if they refused you the job because of your disability, they could lie about why or offer a vague excuse like you simply weren’t a “good fit.” A qualified employment discrimination lawyer may be able to help you uncover evidence that shows that disability was the basis of your rejection.
2. Firing or Demoting an Employee Because of Their Disability
It is illegal for an employer to take any adverse or negative action against a qualifying worker based on a real or assumed disability. Adverse actions include:
- Firing you or demoting you from your position
- Terminating your employment contract
- Changing your schedule or cutting your hours
- Failing to assign you to priority projects
- Refusing to put you in a client-facing role
- Denying you deserved promotions while your coworkers progress
- Cutting you out of benefits that other employees enjoy
- Taking unfair disciplinary action against you
- Reducing your pay, salary, or benefits
These types of actions can delay or even derail your career. They can also cause you mental and emotional anguish.
It’s also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a complaint of disability discrimination. The law is on the side when it comes to protecting your rights.
3. Failing to Give Disabled Employees the Same Opportunities
Your employer can’t treat you differently than other employees because you are disabled. That includes how they consider you for promotions and growth opportunities at the company.
If your employer fails to consider you for a promotion or opportunity that you qualify for because of your disability, then you could have a legal claim for discrimination.
When you file a successful legal claim or lawsuit based on disability discrimination, you could receive a settlement from your employer that recovers the wages, benefits, and bonuses you lost as a result of being passed up out of an opportunity. If you prove your case, your employer may also be on the hook to pay your legal fees and court costs.
4. Harassing an Employee Based on Their Disability
Harassment is a serious workplace issue with major consequences for victims. Disability discrimination and harassment can lead to a toxic or hostile work environment, which can cause you stress, anxiety, depression, and mental anguish. You could be the target of harassment by a coworker, a supervisor, a subordinate, or even a non-employee such as a customer or third-party vendor.
Unacceptable disability harassment at work could look like:
- Verbal harassment such as teasing, jokes, or slurs based on your disability
- Intrusive comments or questions about your disability at work
- Singling you out for different treatment based on your disability
- Refusing to offer reasonable accommodation for you to do your job
- Failing by management to stop harassing behavior once it’s reported
- Forcing you into positions that aggravate your disability
- Repeatedly making assumptions about your capabilities
Your health is your own business. Disabled workers have the right to a workplace safe from harassment – a workplace that’s inclusive of all types of abilities.
5. Failing to Provide Reasonable Accommodations
Under the ADA, your employer actually has a legal responsibility to provide you with reasonable accommodations so that you can do your job. If your company fails to provide these adjustments or modifications, you can sue them for discrimination.
A reasonable accommodation helps you complete your essential job duties. Examples include:
- Disability tools such as hearing aids or mobility aids
- The option to relocate your desk to an accessible area
- Schedule modifications based on your needs
- Protected leave time for medical treatments and care
When offering accommodations, your employer must take an interactive approach by including you in the process and asking about your needs. Your company doesn’t have to provide the exact solution you ask for so long as they offer a similar plan that works.
However, you are responsible for communicating your needs for accommodation – the law does not require your employer to guess what you need for you. Your employer must provide accommodation so long as doing so wouldn’t be an undue hardship.
What Should You Do If You’re Experiencing Disability Discrimination at Work?
Your company has a legal duty to protect its employees from disability discrimination. So when your employer treats you differently because of your disability or allows a hostile work environment to continue unopposed, they must answer to the law.
Many people are afraid to bring up complaints of discrimination because of the threat of retaliation by their employers. But retaliation is illegal – you have the right to protect yourself.
A knowledgeable employment discrimination lawyer can help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim or lawsuit. The attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm have helped protect employees’ rights for years, winning millions of dollars in total settlements.
We know what you’re going through and what it’s like to face down a large company with deep pockets. Your employer may have an army of lawyers but that doesn’t intimidate us. We’re here to fight for you.
Call our nationally recognized employment lawyers now at (800) 522-7274 or use our online contact form. Our award-winning team is on call 24/7 for a FREE consultation of your case. We work on a contingency fee basis so you don’t pay us unless you win your case.