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Discriminating Against Disabled Californians in the Workplace

In 2012, there were 19,839 employment cases with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the state agency mandated to combat illegal discrimination in employment and housing. Of the total cases, 13,452 were complaints of disability discrimination.

What is the meaning of disability?

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) broadly covers mental and physical disabilities and certain medical conditions. To be protected under California law, the disability must “limit” a major life activity without considering mitigating factors such as medication or a prosthesis. The state standard is broader than federal law, which requires the disability to be a “substantial limitation.” Sexual behavior disorders, kleptomania, pyromania and compulsive gambling are not defined as disabilities by California law.

What is prohibited?

State and federal laws prohibit discrimination in employment and harassment based on applicants’ or employees’ disabilities or perceived disabilities. Employers must also reasonably accommodate persons with mental or physical disabilities unless such accommodations would cause undue hardship.

How to make a reasonable accommodation

The employer and employee must work together to formulate a reasonable accommodation before an adverse employment action is taken against the disabled employee or candidate. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • Relocating a work area
  • Redesigning a workstation
  • Redefining job duties and hours
  • Providing aids — electronic and mechanical
  • Providing leave time

If the accommodation causes an undue burden, the employer is not obligated to provide it. Government agencies and private experts are available to advise employers on what is reasonable.

Acceptable nondiscriminatory reasons

When an employer can show that the disabled person cannot do the essential functions of the job and there is no reasonable accommodation that would enable the person to perform the essential functions of the position, there is no illegal discrimination. In addition, it is a violation of law to discriminate against a disabled person if there would be an imminent and significant danger to the person and others by employing the person to do the job and no reasonable accommodation exists to remove the danger.

If you have been refused a job opportunity or promotion because of your disability, contact Los Angeles employment discrimination attorneys to discuss your case.

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