What is the ADA?
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights statute enacted in 1990 that protects individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including employment. The purpose of the ADA is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal rights and is similar to the civil rights granted to individuals based on race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion. Like any statute, there will be amendments and case law that may change the scope of the ADA, so it is important to consult with an experienced labor law attorney if you believe your employer has violated your rights under the ADA or any labor law.
What is a disability under the ADA?
According to the ADA, a disability is defined as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” and includes “a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” The ADA does not provide a specific list of impairments that are covered, but courts have generally defined “disability” broadly.
Interestingly, the ADA also protects persons who “have a relationship with an individual with a disability.” Specifically, this has been interpreted to mean that an employer may not assume that an employee who has a relationship with a person with a disability would negatively affect job performance. For example, if an applicant for employment is married to a person with a disability, the prospective employer may not assume that the applicant would request excessive absences from work to care for the spouse and reject the applicant based solely on that assumption.
Also, the ADA only protects disabilities that are “known” to the employer. In other words, unless the employer is aware of the disability or because the employee has requested a reasonable accommodation.
How does the ADA protect employees?
The protections under the ADA are broad and include both employees, and qualified applicants for employment. Under the ADA, a “qualified individual with a disability” includes a person that “meets legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position” and who is capable to perform the “essential” job functions of a job they currently hold or seek with or without a “reasonable accommodation.” In other words, if a applicant or employee is qualified to perform the essential aspects of the job except for limitations due to a disability, the employer cannot reject the applicant or terminate the employee without first considering whether a “reasonable accommodation” could be enacted to allow the individual with a disability to perform the essential tasks.
A “reasonable accommodation” is a “modification or an adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee” to perform the essential tasks required for the job. For example, if an applicant is qualified for a job, except the applicant uses a wheelchair and is unable to climb a ladder to reach the top shelf where supplies are stored, the employer may not reject the applicant solely on that basis. Instead, the employer must first consider how to modify the workplace so that the applicant would be able to complete tasks without having to climb a ladder, which is not possible due to the person’s disability. If the accommodation is reasonable, and the employee is otherwise qualified, the employer must make the accommodation in order to comply with the ADA.
The range of reasonable accommodations vary from modifications to existing workplaces such as wheelchair ramps, modifying work schedules, modifying equipment, providing a reader or interpreter, or adapting training programs. The ADA does not, however, give preferential treatment to individuals with disabilities nor does the ADA require the employer to assign an individual with disabilities to a job that the person is not qualified to do.
Employers are also not required to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would impose an “undue hardship” on the business. An undue hardship is defined as “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense” when compared to several factors such as nature and cost of the accommodation, resources required, and the size and structure of the business. In general, courts have required larger companies to make more accommodations that may be expensive than a smaller company.
Does the ADA protect California employees with disabilities?
Yes. The ADA is a federal law that protects all employees with disabilities in the U.S. However, California boasts some of the strongest protections for employees in the country, and a California state version of the ADA is part of the Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959 (FEHA). While both the ADA and FEHA protect disabled individuals from job discrimination, FEHA is broader than the ADA and provides greater protection. For example, under the ADA, the protection extends to persons that will be substantially limited by a disability, while the FEHA includes any “limitation” rather than requiring a “substantial” limitation. The result is that FEHA offers broader protection than the ADA.
What should I do if I feel my rights have been violated under the ADA or FEHA?
If you are a person with a disability and you believe your rights have been violated as either an applicant or employee, you should contact an experienced labor law attorney to discuss your case. Both the ADA and FEHA are complicated, and you need legal assistance to ensure your rights are protected. Also, an experienced labor law attorney can help you determine whether to file a complaint and what information you need to proceed. More importantly, an experienced labor law attorney can advocate for you and file a lawsuit for damages if appropriate. You may also be part of a class action suit with other similarly situated employees.
Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including ADA and FEHA violations and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.
If you or someone you know suffered employment violations as an employee due to violations of the ADA or FEHA, you have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.