In the United States, treating disabled employees less favorably because of their disability is illegal. Unfortunately, such discrimination is widespread. It interferes with an employee’s ability to work, or otherwise creates a hostile work environment. Read on to learn more about the relevant agencies, laws, and your legal options if you find yourself discriminated against due to disability.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guards Americans in protected classes (including those with disabilities) from workplace discrimination. This is the federal agency responsible for enforcing civil rights laws, notably the employment-related parts of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Americans with Disabilities Act
Passed in 1990, the ADA is a comprehensive, national civil rights act protecting the needs of people with disabilities. It requires fair treatment of disabled employees in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, training, benefits, pay, and promotions.
Both the EOC and the ADA require employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, such as installing a wheelchair ramp (provided such accommodations would not cause the employer “undue hardship”). Reasonable accommodations are changes to the employee’s work or work environment that enable the employee to do his or her job.
What Qualifies as a Disability?
An individual is classified as disabled if he or she fulfills at least one of three possible criteria:
- Having any mental or physical condition that significantly hinders major life activities. This includes speech, mobility, hearing, or learning impairments.
- Having a history of disability, such as a former cancer patient who is in remission.
- Having any mental or physical impairment that lasts longer than six months.
If someone is receiving unfair treatment because of one of the above reasons, it is discrimination. Additionally, there are protections in place to prevent an employer from requesting more information than is necessary. Employers cannot ask about the nature of obvious physical disabilities; they are only allowed to ask specific questions related to the essential functions of the job.
What Should I Do if I’m Being Discriminated Against?
First, ensure that your situation meets at least one of the criteria listed above and that the reason you are receiving inferior treatment is your disability. If so, you can likely make a claim that your employer is discriminating against you and is therefore in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The first official step in making such a claim is to file a complaint with the EEOC. There is a statute of limitations determining when you are eligible to do this, so be sure not to delay. You can file an ADA complaint online, by mail, or by fax. Be sure to include your contact information, the name of your employer, a brief description of the discriminatory acts, and other additional evidence to support your complaint. See the ADA website for additional information.
The process will be made easier (and you’ll have a better chance of getting a positive outcome) if you employ the services of a qualified employment law attorney with experience in discrimination claims. It is usually best to receive trusted legal counsel before starting the ADA complaint process.
Improve Your Chances of Winning a Discrimination Case
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an ADA violation, there are several things you will want to do to strengthen your case. In addition to making sure you have an attorney you trust on your side, you should do the following:
- Collect evidence (testimonials from witnesses, facts of what happened)
- Keep a detailed log of incidents
- Notify someone (ideally both a supervisor at work, and a lawyer)
- Review the ADA and other relevant laws
While workplace discrimination is often distressing and overwhelming, fighting it can have a positive outcome. Contacting an ADA lawyer who will fight for you is an excellent first step in protecting your rights to fair treatment in the workplace.
Image credit: Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash