Federal law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against disabled employees, this is disability discrimination. This law is known as Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It prohibits government agencies, private employers, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified employees and job applicants who have disabilities. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees.
A disabled individual is one who:
Walking, talking, seeing, hearing, and learning are examples of major life activities. They also include the operation of a major bodily function (such as neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, bladder, or bowel problems).
The ADA forbids disability discrimination in all aspects of employment. This starts in the job application process and includes hiring, pay, promotions, job assignments, training, fringe benefits, layoff, firing, and other conditions of employment. In these aspects, an employer cannot discriminate against a disabled employee.
An example of discrimination would be asking job applicants about their past or current medical conditions. Maintaining a workplace with physical barriers that would make it hard for physically disabled employees to move around safely would be another example. So would refusing to provide reasonable accommodation to physically or mentally disabled employees.
The ADA also makes harassment illegal. In the workplace, harassment of a disabled person includes offensive remarks about the person’s disability that create a hostile work environment because it is so frequent or severe. The harasser can be a supervisor, co-worker, vendor, or customer.
Employers need to do their best to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees as well as disabled job applicants. The employer’s responsibility begins even before a person is hired by a company. Therefore, reasonable accommodations must be made in various aspects, such as job ads, job applications, job interviews, and medical examinations.
It’s important to know that accommodations may not be the same for every disabled employee. For example, if a job applicant is deaf, they may require a sign language interpreter for a job interview. A person with a vision impairment may need someone to read important information to them. If an employee has cancer, they may need to miss work due to radiation or other treatments.
Other examples of reasonable accommodations include:
When it comes to making these requests known, disabled employees can make requests for accommodations to their employer or the employer can ask if accommodations are necessary.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) allows a disabled person to use “plain English” when requesting an accommodation. The terms “ADA” or “reasonable accommodation” do not need to be used.
However, a disabled person does have the responsibility to make their accommodation known, as employers are only required to accommodate known disabilities.
The EEOC also allows employers to ask employees with disabilities if they need a reasonable accommodation when there is a reason to believe so. For example, an employer could ask a deaf employee if they will need reasonable accommodation when meeting with a client. If an employee uses a wheelchair, the employer may ask about accessibility concerns.
In any case, the requested accommodations must be reasonable and cannot pose an “undue hardship” on the employer. They must be minimal in nature. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would result in significant difficulty or expense.
This may include accommodations that are extensive, substantial, disruptive, or would alter business operations. An employer must assess whether a particular request for accommodation would cause undue hardship.
Examples of undue hardship include accommodations that:
If your employer has engaged in disability discrimination, you should first raise the issue with your employer. If you are still employed, follow your company’s policy for filing complaints. If no policy exists, put your complaint in writing and discuss it with the human resources department or personnel office.
Filing an internal complaint can be beneficial because it shows that you tried to resolve the complaint before taking legal action. Plus, if the employer is made aware, they may try to handle it and offer a settlement before you file a lawsuit.
If your employer does not respond or you are not employed, file a charge with the EEOC. You have 300 days to file your EEOC charge if your state also has a law that prohibits disability discrimination. If not, you have just 180 days to file. Illinois has the statewide Human Rights Act, so you have 300 days to file a claim.
The EEOC will notify your employer and investigate the claim by talking to co-workers and managers. Nice the EEOC is done processing your claim, it will send you a “right to sue” letter. You then have just 90 days to file a lawsuit, so act quickly.
It is unfair for a person to get different treatment from their employer due to a disability. Businesses and organizations should ensure they are following the laws and making reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. Only when instances of undue hardships should there be exceptions.
If you have faced discrimination from your employer because of your disability, you have rights that deserve to be protected. North Suburban Legal Service, LLC can help you file a claim against them. Our Chicago disability discrimination lawyers can assess your case and help you determine the next steps. Schedule a consultation today by calling (312) 313-4038.