Disability discrimination and protections

Frank S. Clowney III

California employees who are discriminated against at work due to their disability may seek recourse against their employers under state or federal law. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that pursues claims against employers who it believes have discriminated against individuals who have a history of a disability, who are believed to have a long-term disability and even those who have minor or perceived disabilities.

Employees are also protected from discrimination on the basis of their relationship to someone else with a disability, such as a spouse. If an employee has a disability, the employer is required to provide that employee with a reasonable accommodation, but only if that accommodation does not cause undue hardship to the employer. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing suggests that reasonable accommodations may include changing an employee’s work shift or providing mechanical or electric aids, among other accommodations.

Employers are legally prohibited from asking job applicants whether they have any medical disabilities, but employers may ask employees whether they are capable of performing the duties of the job with or without an accommodation. Employees who are already working for an employer may only be required to provide medical information to their employers if necessary to support a request for accommodation or if an employer believes that an employee cannot successfully perform his or her job tasks.

Once a job applicant has been offered a position with an employer, the employer may request that the potential hire pass a medical examination or answer certain medical questions, but only if the same questions or exams are posed to all potential new employees. Employees or job applicants who feel they have been discriminated against by an employer may want to consult an attorney about whether to file a complaint with the appropriate agency. Though the law does not prohibit teasing or isolated remarks about a person’s disability in the workplace, frequent harassment that creates a hostile or offensive work environment is also actionable as disability discrimination.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Disability Discrimination”, accessed on Feb. 21, 2015