If you are living with a disability or experience a different ability level than the general population, it’s important to remember that you are afforded certain protections under the law. Just as a person cannot be discriminated against for their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, they may not be treated unfairly because of their disability.
This concept can be tricky under certain circumstances. Employment, for example, often relies on a person’s ability to perform a specific job. For most people whose physical abilities are evident, this simply involves submitting a resume and sitting through an interview. For others, however, getting a job is more complicated. It’s possible for employers to cross inappropriate boundaries when they discuss the subject of ability.
Disability is a protected category under federal law. The aim of these laws is to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to the services that they need while preserving their right to personal information.
If you are interviewing for a job, a potential employer cannot ask you about any disabilities that you may have, whether they are visible or not. To clarify, it is illegal for a potential employer to ask, “do you have a disability?” This applies whether you are in a wheelchair or experiencing a mental illness and helps to protect you against discrimination during the hiring process.
However, employers do have the right to make sure that potential employees can perform the necessary duties for a job, and are allowed to ask you specifically about this. You can answer without telling them details of any conditions you may have unless those details prevent you from fulfilling the necessary duties.
Once you are hired, your employer is allowed to ask if you have a disability. However, this does not allow them free reign over your medical information. Rather, they may ask this question in the context of providing you with reasonable accommodations to perform your job.
Another way the law protects individuals with disabilities is through the development and requirement of certain reasonable accommodations. This concept helps ensure individuals with disabilities aren’t passed over for jobs because of small, insignificant roadblocks.
Your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations to allow you to perform the duties of your job. This means that they must make changes or adjustments if they are able to in order to help you fulfill your job description. For example, if your disability prevents you from being able to stand for long periods of time, a grocery store cannot deny you employment as a cashier just because you can’t stand all day. Instead, it’s reasonable to ask them to provide you with a stool or chair so that you may sit when you need to. This is a small, reasonable accommodation that allows you to perform your job.
Reasonable accommodations are unique to each individual and are dependent upon the situation. You should feel as though your employer is doing at least the bare minimum to ensure that you can perform your job. However, it is important to note that an employer does not need to fully change the job description to accommodate you. If you are simply unable to perform a significant number of the tasks required of you, they are within their legal rights to decide that you are not the right fit. This is the same logic that allows them to deny a potential employee on the basis of their work experience or education. Sometimes, individuals are simply not qualified for the posted job.
Sometimes, an employer may ask for documentation or “proof” of a disability. In some scenarios, this is legal. In others, it is not. Ultimately, legality is tied to reasonable accommodation. If you need changes or accommodations made, your employer may legally ask for proof of your condition.
However, this only applies to situations in which a condition is not obvious. For example, if you are in a wheelchair and ask for a low desk, your employer cannot ask for documentation. This is because your condition is clear, and your request is obviously directly related to your disability. Many individuals who do show documentation of their disabilities are those who have mental illnesses, chronic pain, or other invisible conditions.
If you have already been hired at a company, your employer may ask if you have a disability within the context of reasonable accommodation for an invisible disability. If you do need small changes to be made, it is necessary for you to disclose your disability status. In many situations, you don’t have to disclose the name of your condition if you wish to keep it to yourself. All your employer has the right to know is what you need to perform your job. However, you are more than welcome to elaborate if you feel comfortable doing so and it helps to explain the accommodations that you need.
The team at Clark Employment Law, APC works diligently to preserve employee rights, and we have represented hundreds of clients who have experienced discrimination due to a disability. Everyone deserves equal access to employment, and our firm is here to make sure that discrimination is not tolerated.
If you have any questions about our firm, what we can do, or how we can help you, please contact us as soon as possible.
Unless you are asking for a reasonable accommodation, you generally do not have to prove disability to your California employer. However, if your disability affects your mental health, you may have to explain your situation. Proof might become necessary in this situation, especially if your disability affects your daily work.
Reasonable accommodation will vary depending on the disability. A few common accommodations include medical care leave, shifting work schedules, relocation of workspaces, mechanical or electrical aids. Other options for work accommodation may be available or even required, but you’d need to discuss these with your employer. If they fail to provide reasonable accommodation, then they may be in violation of the law.
You do not have to disclose your disability according to California law. Generally, you only need to disclose a disability if you need accommodations or if your disability affects your ability to do your job. Your employer cannot penalize you or fire you for disclosing your disability nor for requesting reasonable accommodations.
Your privacy is important, especially in the workplace. If you feel comfortable disclosing your disability, you can. However, you are not required to do so by law. If you need accommodation, though, you may have to explain your situation. Your employer is not obligated to offer you disability accommodations without an explanation of why you need such accommodation.