The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) makes disability discrimination illegal. The ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals with a disability” in the terms and conditions of employment. The ADA also prohibits disability harassment and retaliation against you for complaining about disability discrimination or for participating in someone else’s disability discrimination case.
Not all injuries, illnesses or even medically defined disabilities are covered by the ADA. The ADA projects a specific class of individuals such as a qualified individual. A qualified individual with a disability is an individual with any medical, physiological, or psychiatric condition that substantially limits a major life activity. Temporary conditions or conditions that, although serious, do not substantially limit any of your major life activities are not covered. For example, permanent blindness or permanent paralysis are medical conditions that substantially limit major life activities. Thus, blindness or paralysis are covered disabilities. However, if you have a temporarily disabling condition, such as a bad back or broken leg, you are probably not considered disabled under the ADA. Remember, the definition of a disability under the ADA is a legal one not a medical one.
The ADA also protects against discrimination based on stereotypes and unfounded concerns about an individual’s medical condition and medical history. Thus, even if you are not actually disabled, but you have a record or history of a disability, your employer cannot take an adverse action against you. Typically, this involves an employee who has disclosed a history of a serious illness or disability to the employer, but is still able to do the job. The employer may not discriminate against such an individual even if that individual is no longer disabled.
Therefore, even if you are not actually disabled, you may still be protected by the ADA if your employer regards or perceives you as being disabled. In some cases (such as an employee with a disease), the employee may have a condition that does not affect him or her (or other employees) in any way, but due to unfounded fears or stereotypes held by the employer, the employer believes that the employee is disabled. If such an employer were to take an adverse action against such an employee based on this perception, the adverse action could violate the ADA.
If you are a qualified individual with a disability, the ADA protects you in several ways. First, it requires that your employer make an effort to reasonably accommodate your disability. If, despite your disability, you are able to do your job, either with no accommodation at all, or with a reasonable accommodation, your employer must accommodate you. An accommodation can be something as simple as changing your starting time a few minutes, giving you a telephone amplifier if you’re hard of hearing, or changing your workspace if it exacerbates your medical condition. If your employer refuses to accommodate you, in most cases you can file an ADA discrimination charge. Your employer, however, is not required to accommodate you if your requested accommodation would be too expensive or burdensome, or if your medical condition poses a serious risk of harm to you or someone else in your workplace.
The ADA also prohibits your employer from taking an adverse action against you because you are disabled, because you have a record of a disability, or because it regards you as disabled. The ADA also protects you from discrimination if you are associated with someone who is disabled, such as a close friend or family member.
If you believe that you are being discriminated against, call us at 202-589-1838 or email us.