San Francisco Disability Discrimination Lawyer
Individuals with disabilities are protected in almost every aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, job applications, the interviewing process, advancement and promotions, compensation, wages and benefits, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The law also protects persons who are perceived as having a physical or mental disability but who are not actually disabled.
What Qualifies as a Disability?
Under the FEHA, a covered disability is any physical or mental impairment that limits (makes difficult) one or more major life activities such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, working, hearing or speaking.
Some types of physical and mental disabilities which may be protected include:
- Quadriplegia, paralysis, spinal disorders, and other mobility impairments
- Blindness, deafness, and other vision or hearing impairments
- Cognitive and learning disabilities
- Epilepsy, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDs, and other chronic or episodic illnesses
- Genetic conditions, cancer, and other serious health conditions
- Psychiatric conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and mental illnesses
California employees have long had the benefit of a broad statutory definition of “disability” under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – in essence, a disability is any physical or mental condition that limits a major life activity. See Cal. Govt. Code Section 12926(j),(m). Since the 2008 amendments to the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employees in the rest of the country are also protected by a broad definition of disability. While federal law requires an employee to show that he suffers from a physical or mental condition or impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, “[t]he term ‘substantially limits’ [is] construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage” and is “not meant to be a demanding standard.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(i).
Both definitions encompass a myriad of illnesses and conditions, including mental or intellectual disabilities. They also include temporary impairments, so long as such impairments are sufficiently severe. See Summers v. Altarum Institute, Corp., 740 F.3d 325 (4th Cir. 2014) (“Under the ADAAA and its implementing regulations, an impairment is not categorically excluded from being a disability simply because it is temporary.”). Federal regulations expressly provide that “effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last fewer than six months can be substantially limiting” for purposes of proving an actual disability. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ix). For example, according to the EEOC, an employee with a back impairment that results in a 20-pound lifting restriction that lasts for several months is “substantially limited” in the major life activity of lifting, and therefore has a covered disability. Id.
Other Recognized Disabilities
Alcoholism and drug addiction are also recognized disabilities under state and federal law, so long as the employee is not currently using alcohol or drugs. Therefore, an employee obtaining treatment for alcohol or drug addiction or who is recovered is entitled to the benefit of the laws.
The idea behind the ADA and FEHA’s expansive definitions of disability is to shift the focus away from prolonged examination or dispute over whether an employee has a disability and toward an analysis of whether the employee’s condition causes functional limitations and whether the employee is entitled to a workplace accommodation to perform his or her job.
Enforcing the Disability Rights of California Employees
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit employers from discriminating against disabled employees. In addition, both California and federal law require employers to engage in an interactive process with disabled employees to determine whether they can provide necessary, reasonable accommodations to enable the employees to perform their job, or another open job for which they are qualified. The ADA and FEHA also may require employers to provide disabled employees with a medical leave of absence above and beyond the leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
What is an Employer’s Duty to Provide Reasonable Accommodations to Disabled Employees?
Sometimes disabled workers are qualified to perform a job, but in order to do so, they need a little help. If needed and requested, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation — an adjustment or job modification that allows the employee to do the job — to a qualified employee with a disability, unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would create an undue hardship (a significant expense or difficulty).
Examples of a reasonable accommodation could include:
- Job restructuring, such as having another employee occasionally lift heavy items for a worker with lifting restrictions
- Modified work schedules, such as allowing an employee to come in later and leave later in order to attend chemotherapy appointments
- Buying new equipment or modifying equipment to make it accessible
- Changes in the workplace, such as ramps, accessible doors, restrooms, and modified workstations
- A leave of absence to obtain medical treatment or to allow the employee to recuperate and return to work
In order to determine whether an accommodation is possible, employers must engage in a good faith interactive process with disabled employees. The interactive process requires both employers and employees to exchange information regarding the employee’s ability to work and potential accommodations the employer may be able to provide. Therefore, it is important for employees to obtain advice early in the process to ensure that they meet their own obligations under the law. Contact a discrimination lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the specifics of your claim.