Disability discrimination occurs when an employer covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) treats a person with a disability unfavorably in any aspect of employment. The law requires fair and equal treatment of people with disabilities who are able to perform the work at hand, even if they require certain accommodations in order to do so.
Under the ADA, a person can be considered disabled if:
- They have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity.
- They have a history of disability, such as having cancer in remission
- They are perceived to have a non-transitory physical or mental impairment, even if they don’t actually have such an impairment
The ADA prohibits disability discrimination in hiring, firing, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, pay, benefits or any other term or condition of employment. It also prohibits harassment based on disability (or perceived disability) and retaliation against workers who request accommodations or otherwise assert their ADA rights. In addition, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their relationship (e.g., marriage) with a disabled person.
Harassment can violate the ADA
For the purposes of our anti-discrimination laws, illegal harassment is generally defined as harassment which is severe and pervasive. Minor teasing, off-hand remarks and isolated incidents are generally not enough to create the kind of hostile or offensive work environment that would violate the ADA. However, frequent and severe harassment is illegal, especially when it results in an adverse employment decision against the person with the disability.
Co-workers, supervisors, and even customers have been caught illegally harassing people with disabilities. Employers can be held liable for failing to address such harassment effectively.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
An accommodation is some sort of change in the work environment or policy that helps a person with a disability apply for work, perform their job duties, or enjoy the privileges and benefits of employment. Common accommodations include making the workplace wheelchair-accessible or providing a reader for a worker who is blind, but they can be anything that the person needs.
The ADA requires employees and job applicants to be provided with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities unless providing them would cause undue hardship to the employer. Undue hardship is generally considered significant difficulty or expense — not simply any difficulty or expense.
People with disabilities also have rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers to care for serious medical conditions, to care for disabled family members and for certain other purposes.