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Disability Accommodations for California Employees

Updated: Nov 17

Disability discrimination in the workplace is illegal in California.

Disabled people are classified as a protected group. This ensures that employers cannot refuse to hire new workers or terminate current employees based solely on the employee's or potential employee's disability. Employers must make fair provisions for workers with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Failure to do so can result in legal ramifications under California disability laws, especially employers.

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Disabilities As California Law Defines Them

In California, you are deemed disabled if you have a disorder that limits one or more main life activities, such as breathing, seeing, walking, caring for yourself, working, socializing, reading, eating, digesting, listening, speaking, and so on.

Developmental defects, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental impairment, or particular learning disabilities are examples of physical or mental disabilities. They can be obvious, such as being wheelchair-bound, using a cane, being disfigured, or getting a body part amputated, or they can be subtle, such as cardiac attacks, respiratory problems, depression, anxiety, stomach problems, sleep apnea, and so on.

An impairment or weakness must be or be regarded as longstanding or permanent to be considered a debilitating disorder. The California Family Rights Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act can provide leave for temporary disabilities.

What Employment Rights Do You Have?

A disabled person who is otherwise eligible (has the schooling, training, or other qualifications needed by the job) to perform critical job functions, with or without accommodations, must be treated equally with all other applicants and/or employees.

The essential job functions are those that the work necessitates. For example, a firefighter's critical job roles include the ability to sprint, raise, and hold. Pilots, on the other hand, need sight as a valid occupational skill qualification. An individual who is unable to perform these tasks due to a disability is not otherwise eligible.

Discrimination Against People with Disabilities in California

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which was enacted in 1974 in California, protects disabled workers from workplace discrimination. The federal equivalent is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA describes the word "disability" as a "physical or mental deficiency that can significantly restrict one or more essential life activities."

The FEHA, on the other hand, has a wider and more lenient meaning, making it simpler to file a lawsuit. A disability is characterized as a physical or mental impairment that restricts a major life function, such as working, under the FEHA. Stress, anxiety, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, excessive urination, and post-traumatic stress disorder will all be considered disorders under the FEHA. More severe medical problems, such as lupus, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, are protected.

Accommodation Should Always Be Available.

An accommodation is a tool, system, equipment, assistance, and/or alteration of a non-essential job function that allows or facilitates the performance of essential job functions by a disabled individual. Larger screen displays or electronic or manual readers for the visually impaired, TTD aids for the deaf, sign language interpreters, modifications to facilities and workstations for wheelchair access, flexible schedules, telecommuting arrangements, use of animal assistants, consolidation of non-essential job tasks, providing time for medical appointments, and so on are some examples.

Employee Reasonable Accommodation: What They Are

Adjustments or changes to a job or workplace that allow an employee or job applicant to effectively perform the basic duties of a position are known as fair accommodations. The basic functions of the job are not affected by suitable accommodation. The situation and type of job determine if a specific accommodation request is appropriate. However, the accommodation should not be too expensive or detrimental to the employer (undue hardship).

The following are some examples of potential fair accommodations:

  • Changes to the facilities. A wheelchair-bound employee can need a higher desk or a specific path of travel. To minimize distractions, an employee with PTSD can require dividers or a more private workspace.

  • Tools or equipment. A worker with carpal tunnel syndrome can require a special keyboard, phone headset, or voice recognition software. A deaf employee may require a text pager. An employee who hears voices or is easily distracted can require the use of headphones.

  • Part-time Schedule. A part-time schedule may be appropriate for an employee who suffers from exhaustion or sleep disruption due to a medical condition.

  • Job schedule changes. Employees who take groggy-causing drugs can need a later or more flexible schedule.

  • Time away from work or school for medication or therapy. An employee undergoing care may require time away from work regularly to attend appointments.

  • Leave of absence without pay. An employee with a disability can need a leave of absence for medical treatments or procedures or to recover from a disability-related illness.

  • Reorganizing Work Responsibilities. If the role is not vital to the work, an employee with a lifting limitation may need to delegate it. When running a monthly meeting is not necessary, an employee with an anxiety disorder can request that someone else moderate the meeting.

  • Preparation. To master the job, an employee with post-traumatic stress disorder or another disability that interferes with concentrating or learning may need extra or advanced training.

  • Pay Attention to How You Supervise. An employee with a learning disability can request a shift in communication methods, such as more face-to-face meetings or email reminders. An employee with a mental health disorder can seek changed supervisory approaches, such as constructive and negative feedback, more regular performance evaluations, and more thorough guidance or task assignment.

  • Job Coaches. A visually impaired employee can request permission to bring a job coach to the job site to help them learn how to navigate the workplace.

  • Changes in Policy. An employee with insulin-dependent diabetes can require additional breaks or permission to eat during the day to monitor blood sugar or administer insulin.

  • Education, training, and awareness campaigns. An employee with epilepsy can request disability education for colleagues and supervisors to know how to respond if the employee has a seizure.

  • Transfer to a Different Position. If an employee cannot perform the essential job functions of his or her current role, they may request a transfer to a vacant position for which they are eligible. A transition may also be acceptable if the employee is eligible for the current position with employee reasonable accommodation, but both the employee and the employer agree that a change is necessary.

Temporary Reasonable Accommodation in The State Of California

Temporary work accommodations allow injured or sick workers to continue working while recovering by offering a changed or alternative work assignment for a period of time, typically up to 90 days, and are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Permanent/Long-term Accommodations

Employees with disability-related disabilities that last 6 months or longer are provided with ongoing/permanent accommodations to allow them to perform the critical functions of their work.

An Employer's Obligations

Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations in the state of California. They are not required to provide an employee's desired accommodations; instead, they must provide accommodations that do not unnecessarily burden the employer's finances and/or workplace operations. The size and economic ability of the employer and the cost, difficulty, and disruption associated with the accommodation are all factors in determining whether an accommodation is appropriate or puts unnecessary hardship on the employer.

Once an employer is made aware of an employee's disability and/or any occupational problems associated with a disability, the legislation specifies that the employer and the employee participate in a good-faith interactive procedure to negotiate possible accommodations. An employer that fails to participate in a good-faith interactive procedure is in breach of the disability accommodation law and may be liable for damages as a result.

Employees are therefore obligated to participate in the good faith accommodation phase. To that end, as part of the fair accommodation process, an employer may request medical certification of the employee's condition and any attempt to consult with the employee's medical providers to decide what would be an appropriate accommodation. Employees who refuse to participate in a good-faith interactive procedure and are fired as a result have no right to compensation.

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If there is a breakdown in the interactive phase that results in discharge or demotion, the courts investigate who is to blame. As a result, it is important to record your involvement in writing in any situation where you engage as part of an accommodation phase. Your boss or HR should receive a copy of this documentation.

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against existing or prospective workers because of a disability. They do not inquire about your disability as part of a pre-employment questionnaire. If you've been offered a job, an employer will ask if you need any special accommodations.

If your condition poses a legitimate health risk to others, an employer can refuse to hire you or terminate your employment. It has been deemed legal to ban epileptics that suffer seizures from running buses, trains, and other vehicles because of legitimate health risks. These dangers, on the other hand, must be real and not only hypothetical.

When a Proposal for Accommodation Is Made

If you tell an employer you're disabled, you have a fair assumption that your employer can keep your medical records private and only share them with people who need to work with you in good faith or have an accommodation.

Retaliation against an employee who demands fair accommodation is illegal. If you believe you have been retaliated against, write your feelings and file a report with your boss and/or human resources.

Requesting Accommodation

You must report your condition to at least one person who serves the employer, such as a supervisor or human resource person, to be covered under the ADA/FEHA. Although you are not required to disclose every detail about your condition, you must provide sufficient details to demonstrate that you have a "disability" under the law and need accommodations. Use terms like "disability," "impairment," "limiting," "significant life events," and "accommodation" to be safe.

The decision to tell an employer about a disability can be very personal. Employees who are thinking about making such disclosure should weigh the costs and benefits, which include:

  • To do the job, you'll need a place to stay.

  • To escape punishment or termination (if you are not accommodated)

  • Accommodation is needed to protect one's health.

  • If you'll be able to find a place to stay.

  • Stigma and abuse are a possibility.

  • There's a risk you'll lose your job or a promotion.

  • The threat of losing one's privacy.

  • Possibility of a more effective and supportive job experience.

Can Employers Ask Details About Your Disability?