Disability Discrimination

Examples of Disability Discrimination

  • Discriminating on the basis of physical or mental disability in various aspects of employment
  • Harassing an employee on the basis of his or her disability
  • Asking job applicants questions about their past or current medical conditions, or requiring job applicants to take medical exams
  • Creating or maintaining a workplace that includes substantial physical barriers to the movement of people with physical disabilities
  • Refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees with physical or mental disability that would allow them to work

The ADA and you

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, over the years the United States Supreme Court interpreted it in such a way that almost no one was recognized as being “disabled” and entitled to the law’s protections. Thankfully, Congress amended the ADA in 2009 to restore its meaning and scope.

If you have a serious health condition that affects your life or a major function of your body, you are probably considered to be “disabled” under the law. Your employer cannot treat you less favorably because of your disability, harass you for your disability, or refuse to grant a reasonable accommodation for your disability. It is also against the law for your employer to retaliate against you because you asked for a reasonable accommodation.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Disability Discrimination

  • I have a disability. How do I request an accommodation?

    The best way to request an accommodation is in writing. If you have an employee handbook, read it! It will likely contain information about how to do this. Write a letter, note, or email that includes information about your disability and a request that your employer accommodate you. If you already know what you need for an accommodation, include that information as well. Once you request an accommodation, your employer is required to work with you in what is called the “interactive process” to determine a reasonable accommodation. Sometimes those accommodations are easy, like changing your schedule; other times it can be difficult to determine the best course of action to accommodate you. Your employer does not have to grant the exact accommodation you request.

  • I just got a new job, but they are requiring a physical before I start. Can they do that?

    Yes. An employer can require you to submit to a pre-employment physical. However, the exam can only happen after you are offered the job. Your new employer is required to keep all your health information confidential.

  • I’ve never applied for Social Security Disability. Does that mean that disability discrimination laws don’t apply to me?

    No. The law for disability benefits under the Social Security Act has a completely different definition of what it means to be “disabled” than the definition that applies in employment laws like the ADA.

  • What does it mean to be “disabled” under employment laws?

    Here’s the short answer: If you have any kind of an ongoing health condition that is significantly affecting your life, or that would significantly affect your life if you weren’t getting treatment, you’re probably “disabled” within the meaning of the law.

    The full answer is that a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. “Major life activities” are functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. A person is “substantially limited” in a “major life activity” if she or he is unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform, or is significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which she can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform it. A major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, like the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

  • I’ve received permanent restrictions that prevent me from climbing ladders. Since I do roofing for a living, do disability laws prevent me from getting fired?

    No, I’m sorry. To be entitled to protection from disability discrimination, you can’t be so disabled that you can’t do the work. Unless there’s a reasonable accommodation we are unaware of, it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to get up on a roof to do your work. Your employer has the right to terminate your employment.