DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION AND REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS
If you live with a disability you have rights in the workplace. You have the right to work in an environment free of discrimination and you have a right to receive reasonable accommodations if you need them. Disability, reasonable accommodation and leave laws often invoke a number of intersecting state and federal laws that are complex and intricately woven. If you are having problems at work stemming from your disability it is imperative that you speak with an attorney experienced with disability and leave laws and who understands the reasonable accommodation process. Attorney Tara Swartz has represented countless persons with disabilities for more than fifteen years. She knows what steps to take to ensure you receive the rights and benefits to which you are entitled.
Disability Discrimination is Unlawful
Disability is a protected class, so if you are disabled under the law your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your disability.
You are a disabled person under the law if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or you are regarded as having such an impairment. The determination as to whether your condition is a legally qualifying disability is made on case-by-case basis. Some conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or diabetes, generally qualify. Permanent conditions that result in ‘episodes’ or ‘flare-ups’ generally qualify as well. Other conditions, such as a broken leg, generally will not qualify, and temporary conditions such as the flu do not qualify. Major life activities include a wide variety of activities, such as: working, sleeping, eating, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, hearing, seeing, concentrating, thinking – this list is not exhaustive.
If you are being harassed or suffer an adverse job action such as in hiring, promotion or termination, and you believe it is because of your disability, you may have a legal claim. Check out our workplace discrimination page for more information on discrimination claims.
Reasonable Accommodations at Work
Persons with disabilities do not always need assistance at work. In fact, many disabled persons can perform their job without their employer or co-workers ever knowing they have a disability. Things may change, however, when a disability flares-up or a new job is started. You may be in this position, or you may be recently diagnosed with a disability and do not know what to do. If this is you, rest assured that you have rights. Employers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified disabled persons. If you are capable of performing the essential functions of your job with or without reasonable accommodations you are a qualified disabled person. You are entitled to accommodations regardless of whether you work full-time or part-time.
Reasonable accommodations are modification or adjustments to your job or work environment that allow you to perform the essential functions of your job. What is reasonable depends on your particular circumstance, for example, the job you hold, your disability, your limitations and the type and size of your employer. Reasonable accommodations may include:
- Flexible or modified work schedules (such as fewer hours of work, more frequent breaks and modification of attendance policies)
- Making work areas easier to access (such as adding ramps, elevators, designated parking spaces and wider bathroom stalls for wheelchair access)
- Acquiring or modifying work equipment (such as changing a desk size to fit a wheelchair, hands-free telephone headsets and voice recognition software)
- Changing tests or training materials (such as providing written materials in large print, Braille or audiotape and in modified or shortened length)
- Providing readers or interpreters
- Providing leave time for medical treatment
Your employer must provide the accommodations you need unless it presents an undue hardship.
Reasonable Accommodation ‘Interactive’ Dialogue
The law requires the employee and employer to communicate with each other when an employee needs an accommodation. This is called the reasonable accommodation or ‘interactive’ dialogue. The nature and extent of the dialogue necessary depends on each situation, but it is not a one-time conversation. Your employer must work with you to identify the accommodations you need and to implement them, unless your needed accommodations present an undue hardship for your employer. You are not entitled to the exact accommodation you requested, but you are entitled to ‘effective and appropriate’ accommodations. This means that if your employer provides you an alternative accommodation to the one you requested, it must be an appropriate alternative and it must be effective. If it is not, your employer must work with you find another alternative, and must continue to do so until an effective one is found.
Hire an Experienced Employment Lawyer to Help
The reasonable accommodation process can be difficult for employees and employers. Employees do not always understand what the law requires of them throughout the process and employers, even the best-intentioned ones, do not always sufficiently or appropriately engage in the interactive dialogue.
If you feel you may need a reasonable accommodation but do not what to do, requested an accommodation and are having a difficult time with your employer, or fear retaliation if you request an accommodation, we can help you. Attorney Tara Swartz regularly counsels employees through the process and works with employers to ensure you receive what you need.