Advocating For Disabled Employees
The law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of their disabilities. Significantly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Ohio law define the term “disability” very broadly, encompassing a wide range of mental and physical impairments. In fact, estimates indicate that almost 20% of the U.S. population has a physical or mental impairment that meets the ADA’s definition of disabled.
Definition Of Disability
A person is defined as “disabled” if she is substantially limited in a major life activity. Major life activities include a broad range of activities, including everything from standing to learning. If a person cannot stand for long periods of time, she is therefore likely disabled because she is substantially limited in that activity.
Other common life activities include:
- Caring for oneself
- Performing manual tasks
A person may also be “disabled” if she is substantially limited in a major bodily function. Some common types of bodily functions include:
- Normal cell growth
- Immune system
- Reproductive functions
Often, a person’s bodily function is substantially limited by a disease or condition (e.g., diabetes, cancer, asthma). In that situation, the person is likely disabled due to the impact of the disease or condition. That is the case even if the person takes medication to control the disease or condition.
The benefits provided by mitigating measures, including medication, medical supplies, hearing aids and prosthetics, are usually not considered when determining if an impairment substantially limits a major life activity. For instance, even though a person with epilepsy can control the condition with medication, the person would still likely be disabled because the medication’s benefits cannot be considered.
Disability Discrimination Prohibited
Employers are prohibited from treating disabled employees less favorably due to their disability. That includes almost all aspects of employment, such as hiring, firing, promotions, pay, fringe benefits, accommodations, layoff, training, job assignments, and other terms or conditions of employment.
Disability discrimination is usually done subtly by an employer. Common situations that may serve as evidence of such workplace discrimination include:
- Managers or supervisors make comments about a person’s disability.
- Your employer treats nondisabled employees more favorably than you.
- There is no factual basis to support the employer’s employment decision (e.g., firing, disciplining, failing to promote, etc.) regarding you.
Employers have the additional obligation to provide disabled employees accommodations that allow them to perform their job functions. Some common types of accommodations include changes to job schedules, eliminating certain tasks and providing leave. If an employer denies an accommodation that is reasonable, it may be legally liable.