Your Rights as a Disabled Worker in California

carpal-tunnel-workplace-disability-californiaA qualifying disabled worker has the following basic workplace rights under ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and FEHA (California Fair Employment and Housing Act):

1. The right to not be discriminated because of disability.

An employer cannot treat you differently in terms of conditions and privileges of your employment (including wages and compensation) because of your disability. Of course, terminating an employee because of his or her disability can also be illegal and be grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

2. The right to an interactive process to find a reasonable, effective accommodation to your disability/serious medical condition.

There is no exhaustive list of accommodations that an employer may be able to or may be obligated to provide to an employee. Some of the examples of accommodations to which a disabled employee may  be entitled to are modified duties, modified / assisting equipment to perform the job duties, modified schedule or telecommuting / working from home, transfer to a different, vacant position at the company that is consistent with a disabled worker’s restrictions, for which the employee is qualified for, disability leave for a limited duration of time, or extension of previously granted disability or medical leave.

In fact, one of the common mistakes that employer make when working with a disabled employee is assuming that just because his FMLA medical leave had expired, he is not entitled to any more time off, and if he is unable to return to work at that time, he can be lawfully terminated. In reality, if that employee has a condition that qualifies as a disability he is likely entitled to an extension of previously granted FMLA leave as an accommodation and terminating that employee before at least considering whether additional medical or disability leave can be granted is likely illegal and would give rise to a legitimate disability discrimination and wrongful termination claim.

The main limitation on the employer’s duty to provide accommodations to a disabled worker is that the employer doesn’t have to provide “perfect” accommodations or those accommodations that impose “undue hardship” on the employer’s operations. As a rule, the larger the company is, the harder it would be for that employer to argue that providing a certain accommodation is an undue hardship to them, because of the resources they have to accommodate various disabilities and because of the more likely availability of vacant full time or part time positions which a disabled worker could have taken as an accommodation.

3. Workplace Disability is Defined Broadly in California

Many people don’t realize that California employment law defines disability very broadly and it includes pretty much any physical or mental condition that limits one’s ability to perform typical daily duties. This includes not only such obvious injuries as a back or neck injury after an accident or carpal tunnel syndrome due to excessive typing or use of wrists, but also a wide of other medical conditions, including diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, AIDS, and mental conditions, such as PTSD, depression, OCD and other common mental disorders. Of course, other more serious of terminal conditions such as cancer almost always qualify as a disability.

A condition does not have to be constant in order to qualify for a disability. For instance, such illnesses are migraines and diabetes only lead to occasional attacks that cause pain and inability to work. These conditions are still a disability that may require  that the disabled worker be reasonable accommodated.

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