As an employee, you have the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace. More than that, you have the right to an accommodation for your disability. When employers refuse to work with you to provide a reasonable accommodation, they are discriminating against you and breaking the law.
At the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak, with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, we work to protect the rights of people who face discrimination based on their disabilities. We only represent employees—never employers—and we focus on getting results quickly so that you can get the help you need right now.
Disability Accommodation Laws in California
Federal laws and California state laws protect workers with disabilities. A state law called the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) says that employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” for people with physical or mental disabilities so that those workers can apply for jobs and perform essential functions of their jobs. FEHA applies to employers that have five or more employees. It also allows employers to avoid providing the accommodation if it would cause an undue hardship.
Federal laws provide protections, too. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with physical and mental disabilities. It helps them avoid unfair discrimination because of physical or mental disabilities.
Under these laws, it is your employer’s duty to see what it can do to make it possible for you to keep or return to your job. The bottom line is your employer needs to make a good faith effort to find a solution. Employers who refuse to make that effort or make it unnecessarily difficult are in violation of the law.
What Does “Disability Accommodation” Mean?
The law says that employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” for disability. But, what does that mean? In some cases, a reasonable accommodation may be nothing more than allowing you to take some time off work.This is true even if you are not entitled to medical leave because you have not been with your employer long enough or because it is small. Reasonable accommodation takes many forms. It can mean things like:
- Time off work
- Restructuring your job duties
- Changing your work schedule
- Moving or changing the work area
- Reassigning you to another job
- Providing mechanical or electrical aids
- Letting you work from home
- Letting you bring a service animal or emotional support animal to work
Disability accommodation can mean other things, too. Each case is unique, and the law is constantly changing. If you aren’t sure about a reasonable accommodation in your situation, it is best to talk with a lawyer.
Disabilities Take Many Different Forms
Many people aren’t sure whether they qualify for a reasonable accommodation because they don’t see their “disability” as serious enough. People with a “disability” are not just people who cannot work or who collect benefits. Anyone who has a disease, injury, or impairment—even a minor one—has the right to be accommodated in the workplace.
You have the right to have your condition respected and accounted for, and even “helped along” by your employer. Even if your condition affects you infrequently, and even if it was only in your past, you may be a person with a “disability” and entitled to protection under the law.
Under California and federal laws, people have gotten reasonable accommodations for people with many types of physical disabilities, including:
- Hearing loss/deafness
- Loss of a limb
- Back pain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Heart defects
- Cerebral Palsy
Not all disabilities are physical. The law applies to people with mental disabilities, too. People have gotten reasonable accommodations for mental disabilities, including:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Recovery from substance abuse
- Intellectual or cognitive disabilities
How Do I Request a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disability?
In some cases, the law requires that employers offer an employee a reasonable accommodation without the employee having to ask. However, studies have shown that employees are more likely to have an easier time getting an accommodation if they speak up.
Do Your Research
If you have a disability and would like a reasonable accommodation, talking with your doctor is a good first step. You’ll want to have an in-depth understanding of your medical limitations and what that means for you at work. You’ll also want to review your workplace’s employee handbook. If there are guidelines for requesting a reasonable accommodation, follow them.
Tell Your Employer in Writing
Sometimes it seems most convenient to talk with your employer in person, but written notification is the best way to go. Written notice should include things like the nature of your disability and how it affects your job. You will also need to explain the accommodation you are seeking so that you can perform your job’s essential functions.
You Might Have to Provide More Information
The law allows your employer to ask you to prove your disability by showing reasonable supporting medical documentation. That doesn’t mean your entire medical record. It could mean a note from your doctor explaining your condition and needs, however.
What If My Employer Denies a Reasonable Accommodation?
If your employer is denying you an accommodation because they believe you are not entitled to it, they may, in fact, be wrong. Many human resources professionals do not have adequate training in this area, and they often mistakenly tell employees that they are not entitled to time off or other accommodations when they really are. Just because your company’s human resources manager told you that you are not entitled to leave or other accommodation does not mean that is true. Employers get this wrong all the time.
Too often, people do not realize that their disabilities qualify them for legal protection and do not take action even though their employer has broken the law. Before you decide that you do not qualify, contact a lawyer who can offer you an honest assessment and tell you whether your disability qualifies you for legal protection. You might have several options, including filing a formal complaint against your employer with an administrative agency. If that doesn’t work, you may also be able to file a lawsuit in court.
Of course, keep in mind that employers do not have to provide the exact accommodation you request from them. Your employer can choose a less expensive alternative, as long as it is appropriate. Employees need to act diligently and in good faith, working with their employers to find a solution that helps them perform the essential functions of their job.
What If My Employer Discriminates Against Me for My Disability?
You might be worried that talking with your employer about your disability and asking for a reasonable accommodation could backfire. Employers have a long history of firing workers for speaking up. However, the law protects you from retaliation by your employer.
If your employer retaliates against you for asking for a reasonable accommodation, you may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. The law protects you no matter which form retaliation takes:
- Reducing your hours
- Giving you a bad performance review
- Firing you
- Attempting to force you out of your job
All of these are examples of unlawful employment retaliation. Retaliation can take other forms, too, so it’s best to talk with an attorney about your personal experience.
Even if you do not have a disability, the law protects you from discrimination based onperceived disability. In other words, if your employer believes you have a disability or physical or mental impairment and take negative action towards you, he or she is in violation of the law.
As a San Francisco disability discrimination attorney, Jeremy Pasternak can help you understand your rights, whether you are still employed or have been fired, and even if you have resigned.Acting quickly is essential. The last places strict deadlines on legal action. In most cases, you and your lawyer must file a formal complaint within one year of the date you were harmed. If you’re not sure whether too much time has passed, it’s much better to talk with a lawyer right away than to assume you can’t take legal action.
Contact The Law Offices Of Jeremy Pasternak
If your employer failed or is failing to make a reasonable accommodation for your disability or grant you leave, or has in any way restricted your ability to work or denied your rights contact attorney Jeremy Pasternak in San Francisco, California, at (415) 693-0300.
Consultations are confidential—your employer will not know you contacted us unless and until you want them to.