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How to Recognize Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

All employers have a duty to provide safe and fair working environments for their employees. Unfortunately, some employers discriminate against disabled workers. All employees should be educated in recognizing when an employer is discriminating against a disabled worker or job applicant and understand how employers can be held responsible for such illegal behavior.

What Constitutes Disability Discrimination?

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects individuals with disabilities, histories of disabilities or spouses with disabilities from workplace discrimination. Workplace discrimination can take place at any point during employment, including hiring and firing, promotions and layoffs, wages and assignments, job training and fringe benefits. Both employers and other employees may commit disability discrimination.

Workplace disability discrimination takes several forms. Failing to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled workers and job applicants can constitute discrimination. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the workplace that helps a disabled worker or applicant perform job duties or “enjoy the privileges of employment.” Common accommodations include readers for the blind, interpreters for the deaf, equipment modifications, reassignment, light duty and medical leave/time off work.

Another form of disability discrimination is harassment. Harassment is any repeated negative behavior severe enough to create a hostile work environment for a disabled worker. Repetition of the behavior is key to determining whether or not an employee is being harassed. Offhand comments and other isolated incidents do not generally constitute harassment.

Finally, disabled workers may be discriminated against by employers when they are passed up for jobs, promotions or are fired due to their disability or perceived disability. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers for physical or mental impairments as long as workers are qualified for their job and able to perform a job’s essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations. It is also illegal to retaliate against an employee for requesting an accommodation. Retaliation may take the form of demotion, dismissal, lack of opportunity for advancement, etc.

How to File a Disability Discrimination Claim

If a disabled worker feels that he or she is being discriminated against, he or she can seek legal action against the offending party through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC handles worker discrimination claims and is able to pursue guilty employers through the legal system. Claims with the EEOC must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination at branches in cities across the country. State and local laws may have different requirements from the EEOC claims process, so it is important to explore these differences with qualified legal assistance.

If you or a loved one has been discriminated against due do a real or perceived disability, it is important to consult an experienced employment law attorney who can help you build your case, file with the EEOC and navigate state-specific law.