Several federal laws prohibit disability discrimination in employment. State and local laws may also apply to your situation. The most well-known federal law protecting the disabled from discrimination is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employment is just one area covered by the ADA.
Other federal laws which provide protections against disability discrimination in employment include:
- Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act
- Workforce Investment Act
- Rehabilitation Act
- Civil Service Reform Act
In general, qualified applicants and employees cannot be discriminated against because of a disability, a perceived disability, history of disability, or their relationship to someone with a disability. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation unless it would cause an undue hardship on the business.
These requirements do not apply to all employers. Typically they apply to those with 15 or more workers, but government entities are prohibited from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities, no matter how few people they employ.
Disabilities are not always obvious and can be difficult to prove. It does not come down to a simple list of medical conditions.
Disabilities include physical and mental impairments which substantially limit a major life activity. Blindness, deafness, and requiring a wheelchair are obvious examples. Disabilities which are not as obvious, such as chemical sensitivity or learning disabilities, are also covered.
Those with a history of disability are protected. This can include serious medical conditions which are not currently active, such as cancer that is in remission.
Those who are believed to have a mental or physical impairment are also protected, even if they do not actually have the impairment, as long as it is serious and expected to last at least six months.
Reasonable accommodation includes a wide variety of changes which allow a disabled person to perform their job duties. Installing a wheelchair ramp, minor changes in job duties, changes to the schedule, providing a reader to a blind person or an interpreter to someone who is hearing impaired.
Reasonable accommodation applies when the disability does not interfere with the person’s ability to actually perform their essential work duties. For instance, if your job duties keep you behind a desk all day, the inability to walk does not interfere with your ability to do your job if you are accommodated with a wheelchair ramp so that you can get to your office or desk.
Some disabilities cannot be reasonably accommodated. For instance, blind people cannot, at this time, drive taxi cabs. That may change sometime in the future with technological advances, but it is not reasonable today.
The undue hardship measure is a little hazier. The difficulty and expense of providing the accommodation must be weighed against the employer’s financial resources, the size of the company, and other relevant factors.