California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing enforces the laws that prevent discrimination against workers or job applicants. These laws protect people from several types of discrimination including disability and pregnancy disability. If you were fired because you have a permanent disability of some nature, your employer could be in violation of the law. The only disability that can be temporary is pregnancy. All other disabilities meet criteria if they’re not mild or temporary.
More specifically, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Disabled Persons Act, and Unruh Civil Rights Act protect you by requiring employers to “make reasonable accommodations” so that you can do the job you were hired to do. The disability could be a medical condition, physical disability, or a mental one. These are examples of conditions and health issues that qualify as disabilities.
- Genetic disorders include conditions like down syndrome, hemophilia, and Huntington’s disease
- Medical conditions include diseases and disorders that affect the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal, neurological system, etc.
- Mental Disabilities include autism spectrum disorder, clinical depression, cognitive disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, etc.
- Physical Disabilities include the loss of a limb, a disfigurement, or physiological condition or disease.
As an example of disability discrimination lawsuits, a maintenance worker for a Goodwill store had a cognitive disability that made it hard to read and understand warnings related to his work. He needed additional training to complete his job duties but never received that training. Instead, the company fired him. The organization was ordered to pay him $65,000 for disability discrimination.
Your Employer’s vs. Your Responsibilities When It Comes to a Job and a Disability
You do have some responsibility when it comes to qualifying for protection. Make sure your employer knows you have a disability. Tell your boss or confirm that your boss understands if he/she has observed your disability’s symptoms or signs. Ideally, put the notice of your disability in writing or an email and make sure it’s dated. Keep a copy for your records. If there are problems later on, you’ll have proof your employer knew.
You have to be able to do the key components of the job. Let’s say you’re in a car accident and suffer a brain injury that impacted your vision. You cannot see well enough to read, so the data entry work you were responsible for may no longer be a possibility. You have the right to ask for reasonable accommodations to be made such as being transferred to another department where reading isn’t a requirement. If data entry is only a small part of your job, that part could be reassigned to another employee. If there is no other department or a suitable opportunity, you cannot sue your boss if you’re let go.
Now, if that disability can be accommodated, your employer has to do so. You’ll work with your employer to come up with suitable accommodations. If you’re left out of the process, there’s a problem. Say you’re diagnosed with diabetes and need more breaks for snacks to keep your blood sugars level or need refrigeration for your insulin, your employer could easily accommodate you. If that employer refuses to consider any accommodations and says that it’s too risky to have someone with your health issue working on a production line, accommodations haven’t been considered. You have a valid discrimination complaint.
As long as the accommodations that would help you would not put your employer in a financial bind or greatly impact the business’s operations, the employer must meet your request suitably. You might be transferred to another department, you might get a small refrigerator added for your medical supplies, or you could be given extra breaks.
FEHA makes an exemption for employers with fewer than five employees. If there are only four of you, your employer doesn’t have to follow the laws. There are also exceptions for non-profits and businesses of a religious nature and in situations where the employee is a family member.
What Do You Do If You’ve Been Fired?
What if you’re fired and don’t think it was justified? What if you don’t even have a disability, but your employer believed you do and fired you? Who do you talk to? These are the steps to take if you’ve been fired and don’t believe it was a legal termination.
Print out copies of emails or make copies of letters you submitted to your supervisor or HR department notifying them of your disability. It’s also a good idea to have a letter from a medical professional documenting your disability.
Make sure you get copies of any paperwork you were handed after you made an accommodation request. Keep track of conversations you have with human resources and your supervisors. If you were offered accommodations that didn’t meet your needs, note what was offered and why it wasn’t acceptable.
You do have the right to battle disability discrimination on your own, but it’s best to hire an attorney who specializes in employment law. An experienced employment law attorney can help you decide what information is relevant and make sure it’s in your files, file complaints, and act on your behalf in the courtroom if necessary. By hiring an attorney, you’re more likely to get the maximum damages.
If you’re worried about paying for an attorney, it’s important to know that most employment law attorneys do not take any money upfront. Consultations are free and the attorneys are paid when they win your case. They take a percentage of your settlement offer or award. Don’t let the fear of paying the legal bills keep you from filing a discrimination complaint against your employer.
Never Automatically Assume You Don’t Qualify
Disability laws cover people with cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. There is also pregnancy disability that protects a woman from discrimination during her pregnancy. With so many areas covered by disability, it’s important to talk to a lawyer. You might not think your condition is a true disability, but it could be and you shouldn’t let doubt keep you from seeking help. There’s no risk in asking for legal advice during a free consultation.
Shegerian Conniff wants to help you through the unfair treatment you were given. It’s our goal to help you rebuild your life while standing up for your rights. If you were fired due to your disability, reach out to us. We can help you understand the laws and how they apply to your situation. If you have a valid complaint against your former employer, we’ll be by your side every step of the way. Call us to schedule a free consultation.