Your Rights as a Disabled Employee

Qualified individuals with disabilities are entitled to an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in the workplace (as well as in government and other contexts) on the basis of disability.  It applies to employers with 15 or more employees and covers recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment.  The ADA also restricts the questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would result in undue hardship.

To be protected by the ADA, one must qualify as having a “disability” (or as having a close relationship with a disabled person) as that term is defined in the Act.  Under the ADA, a disabled person is: (1) one having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or (3) a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2).  The ADA does not specifically list or identify all possible impairments that would be considered disabilities.

“Major life activities” are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty such as walking, breathing,
seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, and working.

To bring a claim under the employment-related provisions of the ADA,
you would need to show that (1) you have a disability within the meaning of the ADA; (2) you are qualified for the job (i.e., you possess the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position held or desired), with or without reasonable accommodation; (3) you are able to perform the essential functions of the job; (4) you were subjected to an adverse employment action (e.g., demotion or termination); (5) your employer knew or had reason to know of your disability; and (6) you were replaced by a non-disabled person or treated less favorably than a non-disabled person.  

Reasonable accommodation may include making existing facilities readily accessible to persons with disabilities; job restructuring;
modification of work schedules; allowing additional unpaid leave;
acquiring or modifying equipment; adjusting or modifying examinations,
training materials, or policies; and providing qualified readers or interpreters.  
An employer is not, however, required to experience undue hardship in making an accommodation, such as by lowering its production standards. 
“Undue hardship” generally refers to actions that require significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to factors such as a business’ size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.

If you can demonstrate the above elements and your employer has treated you unfairly on the basis of your disability, or has cited your disability as a reason for your demotion or termination, you may be entitled to remedies such as reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, reasonable accommodation, or other remedial actions.  Moreover, if the disability discrimination was intentional, compensatory and punitive damages may also be awarded.  Talk to a lawyer who regularly represents mistreated employees to learn more about your rights and how to protect them.

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