Disability Discrimination

Federal law prohibits companies with more than 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of a job applicant’s or an employee’s disability or perceived disability (meaning the employer thinks the person has a disability, whether true or not). Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so long as an applicant or employee is qualified and able to do a job, an employer may not use the applicant’s or employee’s disability as a basis to hire, fire, pay, give job assignments, promote, layoff, train, alter benefits, or any other condition of employment. The type of disability covered by ADA is one that restricts any major life activity. This includes hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning. New York State and New York City human rights laws prohibit disability discrimination by employers with more than 4 employees.

Employers must make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability unless the employer can show that the accommodation would be too difficult for the business to handle or cost too much. (This is rarely the case.) Reasonable accommodations can include providing special equipment or devices or modifying equipment, devices, examinations, training materials, work schedules, job assignment, company policies, and even modifying the workplace to make it more accessible to disabled employees. An employer can refuse to hire a person with a disability if the employment of the applicant would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of the applicant or any other employee.

How do I know if I’m a victim of disability discrimination?

The existence of disability discrimination is very dependent on the specific facts of each situation, but it can include what people in the workplace say, as well as what they do or do not do:

  • Your co-workers persistently refer to your disability in a derogatory manner and management fails to takes steps to stop them.
  • Your employer fails to install accessible bathroom facilities despite your request for them.
  • You apply for a job and you are asked questions about your medical condition, health or whether you have a disability, or about the nature of your disability if it is apparent.
  • Your job requires you to use a word processor and you have developed arthritis; there is a job vacancy for a receptionist position that you are qualified for. Rather than transfer you, you were fired.
  • Before a scheduled promotion, you disclose that you have diabetes. Shortly thereafter, the promotion is given to someone else.
  • Valuable accounts or clients are being steered to non-disabled workers.
  • You are kept out of strategic meetings in favor of non-disabled workers.

I think I’m a victim of disability discrimination:

  • Act quickly—there is a limited amount of time for you to take legal action.
  • If you were fired and received severance, check the severance agreement to make sure you didn’t waive your rights to claim discrimination. (Even if you did, the waiver may not be valid).
  • Gather written reviews and other documents proving your performance quality, as well as your employee manual, if published.
  • Get in touch with an experienced employment lawyer.

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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