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Reasonable Accommodation and the Rights of Disabled Employees in California


Most employees working for employers of five (5) or more employees are covered under the state disability laws in California – and those working with bigger companies may also be covered under the federal disabilities laws . The Americans With Disabilities (ADA) covers businesses with at least 15 workers, while the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) applies to employers with as few as five workers. Both laws prohibit discrimination based on a wide range of physical and mental disabilities and impairments.

Calif. Marketing Firm to Pay $10k After Firing Worker With Pulmonary Disease

Thanks to protections under both federal and state law, employees with disabilities in the workplace who need accommodations to perform their job are entitled to an interactive process when determining whether their request for accommodation can be granted. In simple terms, after you have made your employer aware of your disability and need for an accommodation to perform your job because of your disability (ie like a special chair for your back spasms, a guide dog, or telecommute options, for example), the employer’s evaluation process begins. Considering your request is not a simple yes or no, but involves an interactive process for the employer to determine if your accomodation can be provided without causing an undue burden on the employer. The goal is to allow the employee to perform his or her job while not imposing an unreasonable burden on the employer or its other workers. While an employer does not have to grant every accommodation requested by an employee, it is against the law for the employer to simply refuse to engage in the interactive process or engage in retaliation–i.e., fire the worker.

Unfortunately, not every California business abides by their requirements under the law. Such actions can not only lead to civil lawsuits from the affected employee, but also more formal regulatory action by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which polices disability discrimination at the federal level.

For example, the EEOC recently reached a settlement with marketing company in San Diego agreed to pay $10,500 to compensate a former employee it wrongfully terminated due to a disability. More to the point, the EEOC said the employer requested the ex-employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation for his disability, and instead opted for retaliation. In addition to monetary damages, the EEOC will also require the employer to re-train its staff to prevent potential acts of discrimination in the future.

According to the lawsuit, EEOC v. InsideUp, Inc, filed by the EEOC last September, the former employee worked as a consultant. He suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and several related ailments. Among other things, COPD affects a person’s breathing. Here, the employee had demonstrable difficulty climbing stairs to his second-floor office. Consequently, he requested a reasonable accommodation in the form of allowing him to work from a ground-floor office.

The EEOC alleged employer failed to follow up with this request for accommodation. Instead of engaging in the legally mandated interactive process, a supervisor reduced the employee’s hours and ultimately terminated his employment. The employer provided no official explanation for the termination, noting the employee worked on an “at-will” basis.

After the EEOC opened its inquiry, the employer tried to change its story and allege the employee was actually fired for “poor performance.” The EEOC concluded that was just an excuse. In fact, the employee was “terminated prior to other non-disabled marketing consultants who performed worse” than him.

Is Your Employer Compliant With the ADA and FEHA?

If you work for a California business and have a medical condition that may require accommodation now or in the future, make sure to inquire about your company’s ADA compliance policies. If such policies are not in place or do not fully protect employee rights, you should contact an experienced California employment law attorney to discuss your concerns.



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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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