California Law Protects Employees From Disability Discrimination in the Workplace
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the California law that protects employees as well as job applicants from discrimination at work due to disability.
What Is Protected?
Disability is broadly defined under California law (FEHA). Disabilities include, but are not limited to, physical and mental disabilities, as well as medical conditions such as cancer or HIV/AIDS. California definitions and protections are often broader than those under federal law, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits an individual’s major life activity or activities.
“Major life activities” are interpreted broadly and include physical, mental, and social activities, especially those life activities that affect employability or otherwise present a barrier to employment or advancement. They include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.
Protected disabilities can include:
- Physical disabilities
- Mental disabilities
- Medical conditions, including cancer-related health conditions and genetic traits known to cause a disease or disorder
- Conditions related to pregnancy
- Special Education disabilities that requires or has required in the past special education.
- Perceived disabilities (even if the employee does not currently suffer from a disability but the employer believes the employee does or having had, a disability that has no present disabling effect, but may become a mental or physical disability or special education disability.)
Common Examples of Disability Discrimination
Discrimination may come in many forms. To start, it is illegal for an employer not to hire a person due to their disability. If you were denied a promotion or demoted because of your disability, that is also disability discrimination. Employers cannot refuse a request for reasonable accommodation that would allow you to perform your job unless it is an undue hardship. Disability discrimination may also occur when you are harassed or paid less because of your disability. In some cases, termination or forcing an employee to quit due to their disability are examples of discrimination.
Disability laws also protect employees from discrimination if they are associated with a family member who suffers from a disability. For example, you may need time off to care for a disabled parent, sibling, child, or spouse. FEHA may protect employees, like you, from discrimination or harassment due to this reason.
Damages Available in Disability Discrimination Claims
When a disabled employee wins there are many kinds of potential damages that can be recovered including:
- Damages for emotional and physical injuries
- Damages for lost wages and benefits
- Special damages
- Punitive damages
- File purging
- Attorney’s fees
Do I Have a Disability Discrimination Case?
If you feel you have been discriminated against due to a disability or medical condition, you should consult with an attorney that is knowledgeable in California disability law. My 39 years of experience as a trial lawyer has provided me with the ability to help many employees who have suffered from disability discrimination. Please contact me for a free consultation to discuss your case and I will promptly respond.