Along with age, gender, religion, and race, the federal government and most states have laws prohibiting discrimination based on an employee's disability or perceived disability. This does not mean that every person must be hired for any job for which they apply. But it does mean that if an employee or potential employee is capable of performing a task, they should not be treated differently from any other person also capable of performing that task. Read through the articles below to find out more about disability protections, as well as the process for raising a complaint, so that you, your employer, and your employees can be educated about this important area of law.
Disability Discrimination and the Law
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 for the purpose of preventing discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace as well as in most businesses and other public places by requiring that reasonable accommodations be made for many kinds of disabilities. The ADA applies to employers with more than fifteen employees. Covered employers cannot discriminate against otherwise qualified disabled individuals in hiring, training, promotion, pay and benefits, termination or discharge, or any other condition of employment. Employers must post a notice in the workplace outlining the rights guaranteed by the ADA.
To receive the protections of the law an individual must be disabled. The law defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits what the ADA calls a "major life activity" such as walking, talking, seeing, or learning. Employees whose alcohol or drug abuse impairs their ability to do their job are not protected, but an alcoholic who can perform their job and recovering drug or alcohol abusers do receive protection. The disability must substantially limit the range of jobs that the employee can perform.
The Employer's Duty to Accommodate
If an employee is disabled they are entitled to "reasonable accommodation" under the law. This may include restructuring a job or its duties, allowing the employee to take additional unpaid leave for medical issues, moving the employee to a vacant position or light-duty position, installing special equipment to help them perform their duties, or providing the employee with a qualified reader or interpreter.
An employer doesn't need to make unreasonable accommodations or make accommodation where it would create undue hardship for the employer. What may cause undue hardship is very fact-specific, but typically high financial costs and impracticality that would strain the employer's resources might be found to create undue hardship.
Chemical Sensitivities Discrimination
Multiple chemical sensitivities sufferers present an interesting example of how less-visible disabilities may still receive protection under the ADA. As with other claims it must first be established that the employee has a disability. If an employee cannot perform a major life activity as a result of their chemical sensitivity they may qualify as disabled.
Employers may be requested to accommodate this disability by maintaining a workplace free of pollutants such as fragrances, toxic cleaning agents, pesticides, exhaust fumes, and tobacco smoke. They may also provide surgical masks, latex-free gloves, better ventilation, a work station separate from pollutants, or reassignment to a parallel position.