What Counts As Disability Harassment at Work

disability-harassment-at-workCal. Government Code section 12940(j)(1) prohibits harassment of an employee based on a physical disability or a medical condition. Harassment focuses on situations in which the social environment of the workplace becomes intolerable because the harassment (whether verbal, physical or visual) communicates an offensive message to the harassed employee. This includes disability harassment at work.

One of the more egregious recent disability harassment cases in California is Roby v McKesson Corp (2009). In that case, the employee was frequently and unexpectedly absent from work due to panic attacks. She also suffered from excessive sweating, an unpleasant body odor caused by medication, and nervous disorder that caused her to dig her fingernails into her skin, leaving open sores on her arms. Roby’s supervisor made daily negative comments about her condition, shunned her in the office and at social gatherings, belittled and reprimanded her in front of others. The employee was eventually terminated for excessive absences, even though her supervisor was well aware of her medical condition.

The California Supreme Court held in that case that the supervisor’s actions toward Roby may have contributed to the overall hostile work environment that the claimant was dealing with on a daily basis. The supervisor’s hostility also could be inferred from discriminatory application of the company’s absence policy without regard for accommodating the employee’s known medical condition, which in itself is usually found to be illegal.

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