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Breaking Down Disability Rights in California Employment

If you have a disability, you already know how difficult it can be to receive the accommodations you need. The best thing you can do for yourself is to understand your rights to better fight for fair treatment. In particular, it’s crucial to understand your rights in the workplace so you can protect your livelihood.

California has the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which supplements the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect disabled individuals from workplace discrimination. These protections are intended to offer increased protection against discrimination and to provide recourse for individuals who have experienced workplace discrimination due to their disabilities. Below, we’ll guide you through your rights and options when faced with disability discrimination in the workplace.

Overview of Disability Rights Laws in California 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal law that protects individuals with disabilities, no matter what state they live in. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled individuals and outlines accessibility requirements for public buildings. The ADA covers both physical disabilities-missing limbs, visual impairments, deafness, etc.- and mental disabilities – obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, etc.- and does not require that the disabilities be severe or permanent to qualify as a disability. 

Title I of the ADA covers workplace discrimination against disabled individuals and states that “A covered entity shall not discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability.” In this context, a covered entity is any employer with fifteen or more employees, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

California has specifically expanded upon the ADA. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) expands upon the ADA by increasing covered entities to include any business with five or more employees, as well as state and local governments. The FEHA also prohibits discrimination due to medical conditions, which covers cancer, history of cancer, and genetic characteristics. 

The FEHA offers protection for individuals who are either perceived as or treated as if they have a disability. California also prohibits employers from considering medications, prosthetics, or hearing aids when determining whether a condition is disabling. California employers have an affirmative duty to make reasonable accommodations for known disabilities of any applicants or employees unless, after an interactive process with the individual, they can show that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the employer. Simply increasing cost or requiring effort does not rise to the standard of undue hardship; they must prove that it would require significant difficulty or expense to accommodate or that the core requirements of the job cannot be altered to accommodate the disability.

Protections Under California Law

California law is broad on the topic of what constitutes a disability. Even individuals who are merely perceived as having a disability are entitled to protections under California law, and, in some cases, associations with individuals with a real or perceived disability are protected. Disabilities are considered to be anything that impairs the ability of an individual to do a major life activity.

Reasonable accommodations can include ergonomic chairs and desks, changing work hours, providing increased leave, or changing the physical workspace location. Employers are required to ensure that the workplace does not permit discrimination-if their employees are discriminating against a disabled employee, either verbally or by excluding the employee from activities in which an employee in that position would normally be included, such as meetings or projects, the employer has an obligation to speak to the employees who are behaving in a discriminatory manner and correct the behavior.

How to Prove Disability Discrimination in California

Disability discrimination takes many forms. It includes hiring or firing decisions made due to the condition, making it harder for the employee to do their job, refusing a reasonable accommodation, or permitting other employees or management to harass the disabled employee due to their disability.

The burden of proof for disability discrimination requires that a lawyer prove three things: that the employee had a real or perceived disability and the employer knew of it; the employee was qualified for the job, whether or not a reasonable accommodation was provided; and that the employee was subjected to negative action relating to their job.

Documentation and evidence related to proving this can include emails from management or other employees, physical documents relating to the accommodation process or retaliatory behavior, testimony from other employees or individuals who witnessed the retaliatory or discriminatory behavior, and prior performance reviews or feedback to show that the employee was otherwise competent at their job.

Common scenarios of disability discrimination include refusing to engage in the accommodation process, excluding the employee from team-building activities, permitting negative treatment of the employee by management or other employees, refusing to promote or otherwise advance the disabled employee, or firing the employee for reasons relating to their medical condition. Several of these can be addressed by bringing them to the attention of a competent HR department – getting reasonable accommodations, inappropriate treatment by other employees, and exclusion from team-based activities – but others, such as being denied career advancement or being terminated due to disability, should be addressed with the assistance of an attorney.

Seeking legal assistance in the case of disability discrimination is essential to obtaining the optimal outcome. A competent employment lawyer will help gather proof of discrimination, advocate for the employee, guide them through the complaint process, assist in filing a lawsuit, and follow the court procedures if the employee decides they want to use that route.

Dedicated Help for Disability Discrimination

Disabled employees are protected by federal law and California state law, both of which prohibit employment discrimination. If you or someone you know think you’ve experienced employment discrimination due to a real or perceived disability, please seek assistance via the available government services or from an employment attorney.

Protecting disabled individuals and their rights in the workplace and the recourse they have after experiencing discrimination is vital to protecting vulnerable members of society. If you or a loved one have a disability, please ensure that you are aware of your employment-related rights and the support available if you are discriminated against.If you have experienced discrimination and are seeking legal advice or representation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C., for a consultation.

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