Employers must be aware of their obligations when dealing with employees in California who have disabilities. California disability discrimination law is complex and multifaceted, and employers must take great care to understand their obligations and responsibilities when it comes to hiring and managing employees with disabilities. Unfortunately, many employers fail to recognize the potential legal issues they can face when it comes to their employees’ rights.
This is why, as an employment lawyer, I believe it is essential to explain CA disability discrimination law in detail and outline all the procedures businesses should take in order to avoid any unlawful treatment of their workers. When it comes to the human resources side of any company, it is imperative to know all the relevant laws pertaining to disability rights and discrimination, and to ensure that all employees are given equal opportunity in the workplace. As an employment lawyer, I understand the importance of equipping employers with the tools and knowledge they need to manage their workforce with fairness and compliance with the law.
By reading this blog post, employers will gain a comprehensive understanding of the legal framework underpinning CA disability discrimination law and be able to ensure they are doing what’s required of them to protect the rights of their employees. I will also provide guidance on how to best handle situations where an employee has previously been discriminated against, how to prevent unlawful treatment in the workplace, and how to deal with any potential consequences should a violation occur.
Although not every employer is familiar or comfortable navigating through the complexities of CA disability discrimination law, I have compiled all the necessary information employers need to know in order to ensure they are compliant with the law. With the help of this blog post, employers can feel confident they are taking all the steps required to protect their employees’ rights and create an inclusive environment for all.
California’s Disability Discrimination Law
First, some essentials. California Government Code Section 12940, Subsections a and 2940, Subsections a and m, explain California’s handicap discrimination statute as we know it today. At its most basic level, it conveys two significant things. First of all, you can’t terminate or discriminate in any manner against a handicapped worker if that individual can execute the fundamental tasks of the job. So, as long as they can perform the job, you cannot discriminate against them because of their impairment. Second, even if that handicapped person can’t accomplish the essential tasks of the job, you still can’t dismiss them if they could with a reasonable accommodation.
what California employment law deems to be a disability
- physical disabilities : A physical disability is any physiological disease, disorder, condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss that affects body systems, and, and this is important, limits a major life activity. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. Now, that’s a fancy lawyer definition. How about some examples? Chronic kidney disease, broken bones, torn ligaments, back problems. You know, sometimes heart disease and epilepsy, polio. Those are all good examples of a physical disability. The list is endless, and this is the largest area of disability discrimination law.
- mental disabilities : Any mental disorders, psychological disorders. Things like OCD, schizophrenia, certain autism spectrum disorders. Any of those could be a mental disability.
- medical conditions : The law largely puts this into buckets. Cancer and related illnesses and genetic characteristics. So that’s all pretty simple, and those cases are relatively rare.
If you observe, Any one of them must restrict a main life activity. what does it mean? Well, luckily for us, California case law has defined main life activity to include labor. You know, obviously working is a big part of anybody’s life, so that’s not too difficult to establish. What is sometimes more in controversy is whether or not your medical condition actually constitutes a disability under one of those three definitions.
Accommodation: A Case Study of Disability
Remember back here when I mentioned that California employment law says that it is prohibited to discriminate against or fire an employee because they have a handicap if that individual can perform the fundamental tasks of the job? That’s really straightforward. The individual can perform the work; you can’t discriminate against them because of their impairment. But what’s shocking is that a lot of people don’t understand this, but the employer must know that the employee is impaired. A lot of individuals who have impairments are incredibly effective at disguising them, but in order for anyone to have the desire to discriminate, they have to know about the condition. Now, does the employer have to know precisely what that handicap is? Well, no.
The doctor’s letter doesn’t need to go into that depth, but it does need to go into enough information to warn the employer that you’re incapacitated and what your constraints are. Okay. That’s really straightforward. What makes this area of law considerably more problematic are reasonable accommodations. So let’s dissect it. What is an accommodation? If the employee’s employment could be adjusted to enable a handicapped worker to fulfill the fundamental responsibilities of the job, that would be an accommodation. But the accommodation must be acceptable. Now, what does reasonable mean? And that’s when it becomes extremely tricky.
Well, and it’s virtually impossible to respond because it is a jury question. The fact-finder in the case will assess whether or not the requested accommodation was reasonable or not. But let’s give an example. Let’s imagine you fractured your leg, and you work on the fifth level of an ancient building that doesn’t have an elevator. And the projected recuperation period is six weeks, and there’s no way you’re going to be able to walk up and down five stories on crutches. Could you suggest that as opposed to working on the fifth level, you simply work on the first floor for those six weeks? Well, it would be, to me, a fair concession. It’s transitory, and you’d be able to accomplish the key tasks of your work.
Okay, let’s twist that hypo. Let’s assume your employment is on the fifth level. Special piece of equipment up there. Okay, could you suggest that the corporation construct an elevator at a cost of half a million dollars so that you can go up there in that timeframe? Well, probably not. I don’t believe a jury would consider it to be reasonable. But you could definitely seek a short leave of absence for those six weeks while you recuperate, and then you may return to your work. That would probably be an acceptable concession. But it depends. It depends on the employer. It depends on the work tasks. It depends on the staff. So you cannot answer them in a vacuum. You have to proceed on a case-by-case basis.
Let’s discuss the interactive process. At its most basic level, this is really simple. If you’re disabled and you request a reasonable accommodation up here, the employer is required to consider that and work with you. If your requested accommodation actually doesn’t work for them, they’re required to try to help find an accommodation that would work so you can continue working. So at its simplest level, if they don’t help you or don’t work with you, you can also sue them for failing to engage in the interactive process. It’s its own cause of action. Actually, under this, you know, umbrella of disability discrimination that we’re talking about, there are actually three separate causes of action. Disability discrimination. They fired you because you have a disability. They failed to give you a reasonable accommodation. And they failed to engage in the interactive process. The three of them combine to make a very powerful lawsuit.
How Do You Recover if You Are Discriminated against due to Disability?
If you are discriminated against due to your disability, and if you’re fired, what kind of monetary remedies are available to you? Let’s look at that in more detail. First and foremost, if you’ve been terminated because of your disability, you can recover your economic damages. Those are your lost wages. So if you’re fired, you’re not earning your salary anymore. That’s a very tangible economic loss that the jury can measure. Secondly, you can recover your emotional distress damages.
I mean, to be fired because you have a disability It’s very barbaric in a certain way, and these damages are often the largest component of these cases, especially in severe cases. They’re very real and cannot be diminished. Third, punitive damages Everybody’s heard about punitive damages. Those are the damages meant to punish the employer for their horrendous conduct. They’re difficult to win, though, because you have to prove that the termination or the discrimination was done with malice, oppression, or fraud. That’s difficult to do. It has a higher burden of proof.
But if you have a good lawyer, a good lawyer can ring that bell more often than not. And finally, attorney fees It’s wonderful that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which is Government Code 12940, provides for attorney fees if you were discriminated against, which is really important because that provides a significant hammer to push these defendants into an early settlement negotiation because if liability is good, they won’t want to incur too much in attorney fee liability, ’cause that could be very large at the end of the day.
So, okay, should you file a case? Would it be worth it in the end? What would your case be worth? Well, we don’t know what your case would be worth because, for one, every case is different. There are hundreds of factors that go into the settlement value. But secondly, we don’t even have averages because settlement agreements are confidential. So there aren’t even published averages on this. But I can tell you this: If you are able to find a good employment lawyer to take your case on a contingency basis and invest his or her own time, money, and, most importantly, effort into the case, you’re more than likely to be satisfied with the financial outcome of the case. So that’s all I have for you. Take care.