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Disability discrimination in the Workplace

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or business/private entity that falls under the jurisdiction of the Americans with Disabilities Act treats somebody differently or unfavorably because they have a disability, whether that is a physical, mental or any other kind of disability.

Disability discrimination also applies to when an applicant for a position is treated less favorably, or passed over for a job entirely, solely because they have a history of a disability (such as a history of strokes or a cancer that is in remission). This rule extends to members of the applicant/employee’s family as well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all employers and workplaces to provide reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees with disability unless they have a proven, realistic hardship in doing so. Not providing accommodations for those with disabilities is another type of disability discrimination that is illegal under federal law.

These accommodations could include simply installing a handicap ramp up a flight of stairs outside of the business, or providing computing technology so that a blind person may work in an office setting. By law, employers are required to make such accommodations unless they are realistically unable to do so, usually because they do not have the financial resources to make the accommodations.

Employers are forbidden to unfairly discriminate against those with disabilities in any way that pertains to hiring, firing, assigning wages or job responsibilities, awarding promotions or bonuses, making layoffs, providing training or fulfilling any other aspect of their conditions of employment such as health and retirement benefits.

Further, employers are not allowed to ask a disabled job applicant medical questions regarding their disability before extending an offer for a job. They also may not ask the applicant if they have a disability in general, or details about an apparent disability. Employers may, however, ask an applicant to answer medical questions after they have extended a job offer, so long as all new employees are asked the same questions.

Although isolated incidents of teasing aren’t forbidden by law, harassment of a disabled employee becomes criminal when the harassment reaches a level where it creates a hostile and unfriendly work environment. For instance, if a disabled worker is given a nickname that directly demeans their character and lampoons their disability, this is unacceptable and certainly is in violation of the law.

What does the law define as “disabled?”

Although employers are legally required to not discriminate against somebody or pass them up for a job solely because of a disability, this does not mean that it is discrimination if an employer turns down somebody with a muscular disorder from a position as a construction foreman. As part of the law, the disabled applicant must be qualified and able to perform the job to a reasonable level.

The other aspect of what defines disability discrimination is whether or not the person has a disability that is legally recognized. There are three types of disabilities that are protected under discrimination law.

  • A person who has a physical or mental condition that severely limits any major life activity such as talking, hearing, seeing, walking or learning.
  • A person may be defined as disabled if they have a history of a disability (such as any type of cancer that is in remission).
  • A person may be recognized as disabled even if they have an impairment that is not expected to last longer than six months, such as somebody using a wheelchair after major surgery or a broken bone.
Disability discrimination is a criminal activity

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides and invaluable basis for protecting those who are disabled from undue and unfair discrimination in the work place. It allows them to get fair treatment when seeking employment and continues to hold employers accountable throughout their employment.

If you, or anybody you love, has been unfairly discriminated against due to a preexisting, recently-diagnosed or any other type of physical or mental disability, then you have legal recourse to hold that employer accountable.

At Altman & Altman LLP, we have over 40 years of experience protecting the rights of employees, and we will relentlessly pursue any and all cases of disability discrimination with the experience, care and patience necessary to ensure a high probability of success.

Call us for a free consultation today at 617.492.3000 or toll-free at 800.481.6199. We are available 24/7.

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