California and Federal law strictly prohibit discrimination in the workplace due to an individual’s disability. If your employer discriminated against you or treated you differently because of a disability, or if your employer failed to engage in the “reasonable accommodation” process discussed below, contact the attorneys at Fernandez & Lauby LLP immediately for a free consultation.
What is a “Disability” Under California Law?
Under California law, “disability” is broadly defined as any physical or mental condition that limits a major life activity, such as working, walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or performing other regular tasks or activities.
This definition specifically covers physical disabilities, including any disease, disorder, condition, disfigurement, or anatomical loss that affects a major body system. Mental disabilities are also covered, and this includes conditions such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and any other mental or psychological condition that requires special education or related services. Chronic and/or episodic conditions such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, epilepsy, seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease are also protected as physical and/or mental disabilities. Finally, California law also defines “disability” to include any health impairment related to genetic characteristics or to a diagnosis of cancer or a record or history of cancer.
Importantly, the definition of “disability” also covers temporary conditions, such as broken bones or pregnancy, when the injury or condition limits the person’s ability to work or perform other major life activities.
What Actions are Prohibited?
Disability discrimination is illegal in all employment practices. For example, employers are prohibited from discriminatory language or expressing a preference for nondisabled persons in advertisements for open positions. Employers are also not allowed to discriminate against job applicants in the application, screening, and interview process. Furthermore, employers cannot base employment decisions on an employee or applicant’s disability, and this applies to decisions such as hiring, setting pay rates, transfers, promotions, and terminations.
Has an employer subjected you to any negative treatment because of your disability? If so, please contact us for a free consultation to discuss your rights and possible remedies under California law.
What are my rights for my disability at work in California?
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) establishes strong protections and rights for individuals with disabilities. Notably, California law establishes that employers must follow two absolute requirements for persons with disabilities:
- The employer must provide “reasonable accommodation” for those applicants and employees that, because of disability, are unable to perform the essential functions of the job.
- The employer must engage in a timely, good faith interactive process to explore options for the “reasonable accommodation.”
The paragraphs below provide more detail regarding your rights under California law, but if you feel you have been discriminated against or denied reasonable accommodation for your disability, please contact Fernandez & Lauby LLP for a free consultation so that our experienced employment attorneys can fight for your legal rights.
What is a “Reasonable Accommodation” for an employee with disabilities?
California law is clear – an employer has an affirmative duty to make “reasonable accommodations” to accommodate the disability of an individual once the employer is aware of the disability. In other words, a California employer has an absolute duty to work with a disabled employee to find a way to accommodate known disabilities.
The “good faith interactive process” is perhaps the most crucial step, as it allows the employee and employer to discuss the nature of the disability and the limitations that may affect an employee’s ability to perform essential job duties. In essence, the purpose of this discussion is to determine what (if any) accommodations may be needed, and the good faith interactive process should result in the identification of one or many options for reasonable accommodations. There are many potential forms of reasonable accommodations, and some common examples are:
- Allowing an employee to work a part-time or flexible schedule in order to get medical treatment
- Restructured job duties so certain tasks, such as lifting heavy objects, are handled by other employees
- Providing tools such as screen readers or hearing assistance that allow the disabled person to perform their job duties
- Telecommuting to allow a disabled employee to work from home
- Providing seating for an employee that has a physical disability that limits the ability to stand for prolonged periods
- Providing equipment to make the workplace accessible
Another common reasonable accommodation is to allow a disabled individual to have an “assistance animal” at the worksite. Under California law, “assistive animal” means any animal that is necessary as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability. “Assistive animal” specifically includes guide dogs (which are trained to guide a blind or visually impaired person), signal dogs or other animals (that are trained to alert a deaf or hearing impaired person to sounds), service dogs or other animals (that are trained to the requirements of a person with a disability), and support dogs or other animals (that provide emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injuries or mental disabilities, such as major depression).
It is critical to understand that, under California law, an employer can only legally deny your request for reasonable accommodation after the required “good faith interactive process” is completed and after the employer demonstrates that the proposed reasonable accommodation would impose an undue hardship. Both conditions must be met for an employer to deny a reasonable accommodation, and this is a difficult burden because an employer cannot simply label a reasonable accommodation as an “undue burden” without a significant factual showing. Indeed, if an employer denies a reasonable accommodation based on “undue hardship,” the employer is required to show that the accommodations would require significant difficulty or expense when considered against many factors, including, but not limited to, the nature and cost of the accommodation requested, the size of the business, the financial resources of the company, and the type of business, among others.
If you have a disability and your employer did not engage in the good faith interactive process to offer a reasonable accommodation, the attorneys at Fernandez & Lauby LLP are available for a free consultation to determine whether you may be entitled to significant compensation.
What Are My Remedies for Disability Discrimination?
Although every case is different, individuals that were subjected to disability discrimination may be entitled to various forms of compensation. For example, money damages are available and include claims for lost wages/back pay (including interest) and front pay (i.e., pay that would have been earned if the employee was not terminated). Employees may also be entitled to the difference in pay between what the employee was earning and what the employee should have earned if the person was not denied a promotion or raise for discriminatory reasons. Disabled individuals that suffer discrimination are also entitled to seek compensation for pain and suffering, as well as emotional distress, arising from the discrimination.
In some circumstances, an employee may be entitled to receive punitive damages from the company, which are intended to punish illegal and improper behavior and to deter employers from engaging in similar behavior in the future.
Because every case is unique, please contact our experienced attorneys for a free consultation to discuss the facts of your situation and how we can help.