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Disability Accommodations for California Employees

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

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?


Employers are prohibited from asking questions about your condition or requiring a medical test unless the questions or examination are relevant to your work and are compatible with business needs. An employer cannot ask medical questions unless there is a job-related excuse, even though you appear sick or ill.


Specific medical investigations can be justified under the following circumstances. Otherwise, your boss is unlikely to have access to your medical records:

  • If an employee requires accommodation but the impairment or need for accommodation is not immediately evident, then the employer may request reasonable medical evidence indicating the employee's right to accommodation. Health records must be held in a separate medical file that is kept private.

  • Employers can ask limited medical questions or require a medical examination if they have a fair belief that a disability may impair an employee's ability to perform the job's essential functions.

  • Suppose an employer has a reasonable belief that the employee's disability poses a direct threat to others' health or safety. In that case, the employer can ask restricted medical questions or order a medical examination.

  • If an employee experiences a work-related injury, the employer can ask limited medical questions or require a medical examination to determine its workers' compensation liability.

Even if the request for medical records or documents is made for a work-related purpose, it must be fair and relevant to the case. No request should go beyond the limits of the employer's need to determine the disability's effect. Most importantly, all medical records obtained by the employer must be kept confidential and kept separate from the normal personnel file.


Disability Accommodation Law, Alcoholism and Opioid Addiction


Alcoholism and opioid abuse are legally recognized disorders. However, using alcohol or narcotics at work, such as being drunk or under the influence of drugs, missing work, or arriving late due to a hangover or binge, is not considered an acceptable accommodation and can result in immediate termination. On the other hand, treatment for alcoholism or opioid abuse can be considered a suitable accommodation.


The trick is to seek counseling before being fired for your actions. Because of their status as recovering alcoholics or opioid abusers, an employer cannot prejudice or threaten them. As a result, an employer who knows that an employee attends AA or NA meetings cannot demote, fire, or otherwise discriminate against the employee because of his or her status as a recovering alcoholic or addict. Permission to attend meetings or counseling sessions can be a suitable accommodation.


Under the FMLA and the CRFA, you have the right to take medical leave.


Anyone may become impaired at anytime, and those who do can experience "flares" or periods of heightened symptoms. If a worker's illness is serious enough to prohibit them from doing their job, they can take time off without jeopardizing their career.


The FMLA and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provide qualifying workers with a secured unpaid leave period. During this, they maintain their health benefits and job status. To be eligible, employees must have served at an eligible employer for at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months. You can use FMLA/CFRA for the following purposes:

  • You have a serious health problem.

  • A parent, infant, spouse, or domestic partner who requires medical attention for a serious illness

  • Childbirth

  • A new foster placement or adoption

  • Expenses are incurred from a parent, infant, or spouse's active military service.

When returning from FMLA, employees must be reinstated to their previous role or given a new job comparable in place, tasks, hours, skills, and compensation, including benefits. Loss of pay, benefits or other desirable aspects of work may indicate illegal retaliation.


Is It Possible to Leave if the Situation Is Intolerable?


The reasonable accommodation law acknowledges that, in some cases, people have no fair option but to leave their jobs rather than continue to be subjected to unlawful conduct. An employee cannot simply resign and file a lawsuit because of a single occurrence. The conditions must be severe and repeated often enough for a rational person to believe that there is no other option and that he or she has been constructively terminated. Before quitting, you can disclose the conditions via your company's complaint process, if necessary, or the ability to recover damages can be harmed.


What to Do If You've Been Treated Unfairly?


Many businesses have anti-discrimination and harassment policies in their employee handbooks. They may also demand that you request accommodation and/or report abuse, prejudice, and/or retaliation through a clear communication channel. You should observe these protocols and keep a written record of your conduct. Failure to follow these procedures may result in the legal right to recover such damages, such as punitive damages, being refused. You only have a certain amount of time to act to protect your rights.


What To Do If You Were Discriminated for Your Disabilities?


Start by addressing the situation at work, whether your supervisor or coworkers discriminate against you because of your disabilities. This could be with a supervisor or the human resources department. If you're thinking about retaliation, speak to an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles first. He or she will remind you of your employment rights and the best course of action.


It's important to keep track of any incidents of harassment or prejudice. These notes should include the dates, times, and places of the violence or bias. You should also include the names of those involved. It's important to keep track of emails, written correspondence, and other evidence that backs up the discrimination claim.


To implement the FEHA provisions, a person must file an administrative claim with the California Department of Equal Employment and Housing. Following that, this department will investigate a possible case of discrimination or harassment. Employees have one year from the date of the discrimination to file a complaint about discrimination in the workplace based on disabilities.


After the agency investigates the complaint and considers violations, you can take the case to an administrative hearing for damages. You may also appeal your case to federal court and make a judge or jury hear it.


Proving Discrimination is Happening at Work


To file a disability discrimination case in California, an employee must claim the following:

  • They were exposed to discriminatory hiring practices by their boss.

  • The fact that they were disabled was a huge reason for the actions that were taken against them.

  • The employee was injured as a result of the employer's actions.

  • Adverse work activities include permanent employment decisions, such as termination or demotion. Adverse job acts are often behaviors that represent a pattern of behavior that, when taken together, are seen to affect an employee's terms or privileges.

What does it mean to be subjected to "adverse work action"?


These behaviors will likely jeopardize an otherwise qualified employee's job performance or development or promotion opportunities in their chosen sector.


On the other hand, acts that simply irritate an employee have not been considered instances of unprofessional conduct. A decisive step is when an employer discovers an employee is gay and fires him immediately. As previously said, such actions do not have to be carried out to this extent.


Finally, the true motive for taking adverse job action in the first place is a significant driving factor. It's possible that this is discriminatory, but it's not always the case.


Wrongful Termination as a Result of Discrimination


If you were fired from a job because of your disability, you might have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. Discrimination based on disabilities or disabled persons is prohibited under California's Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA). You could file a wrongfully firing lawsuit if you were fired due to your disabilities.


In general, employment in California is on an at-will basis. This guarantees that you can be fired at any time without giving your boss a reason. There are circumstances where termination is deemed unjust, and you have the right to file a complaint. As an example, if you are fired due to your disability.


What is a Claim for Constructive Dismissal?


An employee may not be immediately fired but may be required to work in unacceptable conditions for an unethical reason or against public policy. This may make it look as if the employee was forced to resign.


You will have enough grounds to file a wrongful termination claim citing constructive discharge (in violation of public policy and/or the FEHA) if you have ever been subjected to harassment or prejudice because you are disabled.


In court, you must prove that the defendant (or multiple defendants) subjected you to an intolerable working environment. So intolerable that any rational person put in your position would have had no choice but to resign, either. You have to prove that the employer (or those involved) deliberately instigated or allowed those conditions and that you resigned due to those conditions to prove constructive dismissal.


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The workplace climate must be exceedingly egregious at the end of your employment for conditions to be considered "unacceptable" at the time of your resignation. For example, if you were subjected to slurs or physical harassment by several coworkers or your supervisor because of your disabilities, and your employer did nothing about it, these working conditions might be grounds for a constructive dismissal claim.


Before deciding to resign, consult with a California Employment Attorney to ensure that the situation has come to the point that legal action is required. To make a constructive dismissal or unfair termination claim, the employer must be mindful of the consequences of these clauses.


Possible payable damages can be:

  • Reimbursement

  • Emotional Distress

  • Interest on salaries

  • Fees paid for legal assistance

In certain cases, you can recover punitive damages against the employer for truly egregious behavior. However, you may be limited in the number of damages you may recover under Title VII.


Should You Sue for Retaliation?


Under federal and California law, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee who takes a protected action, such as filing a discrimination lawsuit. This is enshrined in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) of California and many federal anti-discrimination statutes, including Title VII.


You should seek legal advice from an California Disability Discrimination Attorney if you believe you have been harassed due to filing a discrimination complaint with HR, filing a charge with the EEOC or the DFEH, or supporting others who have filed a complaint.


How Do I Recognize a Retaliation Incident?


Under the FEHA, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee who files a discrimination complaint. In most cases, FEHA provides workers with more protections than laws like Title VII, but both include clauses that prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who participate in protected behavior.


Retaliation against employees who report discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, disability or medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex or gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, military or veteran status, or genetic information is prohibited in California.


Retaliation can take several forms, including several negative actions against employees because they exercised a protected right. Materiality can be used to measure and assess wrongful actions on the job and to calculate future payable damages. It's fair to say that the suspected retribution had a major effect on your working conditions.


Proving a Claim of Retaliation


To assert retribution, you must demonstrate that you engaged in the protected activity of filing a discrimination lawsuit, that you were handled unfairly, and that the adverse employment action was causally linked to your complaint filing.


The complaint must not be formally made to be considered a covered activity. In other words, even though you did not officially file a complaint with the DFEH, if you inform your employer that your boss or a coworker is discriminating or harassing you, and their next move is to punish you (like moving you to a lower-paying department or role as a result), then you are already being retaliated against.


When you file a report, you must contact your boss immediately, and you will be investigated. It's also best to seek guidance on the weight of your statements. Ascertaining that the discriminatory incidents you're citing are, in fact, unlawful under the reasonable accommodation law will help you win your discrimination and retaliation cases.


Are There Damages in Retaliation Claims?


Even if the court finds out or considers the cited acts to be non-discriminatory (at least by legal definition), you can still file a claim for retaliation damages. For example, you may have reason to believe that your employer declined to promote you because of your race. You will still win on the revenge claim even though you bring a disability discrimination case that does not result in success.


If you have been the victim of retaliation in California, you could be entitled to a scope of damages, depending on the type of adverse action taken against you. Since each case has its own set of facts, consulting with an experienced California Disability Discrimination Attorney about the situation may be helpful.


You could be entitled to several damages and remedies if you were discriminated against because of your disabilities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Being reimbursed

  • Attorney fees and costs of a lawsuit

  • Promotion or re-employment

  • Policy and planning improvements

  • Losses that are not monetary in nature, such as emotional agony

  • Punitive damages are used to prosecute an employer that has been found guilty of misconduct

  • The California Department of Equal Employment and Housing may impose administrative penalties on employers who violate discrimination law

Should You Get a Disability Discrimination Attorney?


In California, any employer who discriminates against current or potential employees because of their disabilities is violating the rule. Consequently, you have the legal right to sue if you are a victim of occupational disability discrimination. An experienced lawyer will help you file a lawsuit and protect your rights.


If you are fired, suspended, not working, demoted, or treated unfairly at work because of your disabilities, a California Disability Discrimination Attorney will help you make a strong case to defend your civil rights. No one should be exposed to such mistreatment or prejudice, and a lawyer may help.


Compensation for lost wages, additional benefits, damages for physical injuries or mental distress, and legal fees could be available to you. Discrimination in the workplace based on protected features is not accepted. That said, let an attorney assist you in defending yourself against someone who is violating the law.


Seek Help With A Top California Disability Discrimination Attorney For Your Case!


You can file a lawsuit if you think you have been the victim of workplace discrimination. Here are some choices for you:

  • State or local government employees may file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by calling 1-800-669-4000.

  • You may begin the process by contacting an EEO counselor in the federal government sector.

  • 1000Attorneys.com provides a referral service that matches you with an appropriate Disability Discrimination Attorney.

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