In California’s diverse workplaces, creating an environment that values equal treatment under the law is essential. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) plays a critical role in preventing discrimination on various grounds, including discrimination based on disability. In this blog post, we’ll explore the practical aspects of disability discrimination laws under FEHA and hopefully provide some insight for both employees and employers.
The Foundation: California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
At the heart of California’s commitment to fairness in the workplace is the FEHA. This legislation prohibits discrimination based on various characteristics. One of the protected characteristics is disability.
The FEHA declares as public policy “that it is necessary to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain, and hold employment without discrimination” on the basis of physical or mental disability or various other factors the statute enumerates. California Government Code § 12920
Prohibited Forms of Disability Discrimination
The FEHA proscribes two types of disability discrimination: (1) discrimination arising from an employer’s intentionally discriminatory act against an employee because of his or her disability (disparate treatment discrimination), and (2) discrimination resulting from an employer’s facially neutral practice or policy that has a disproportionate effect on employees suffering from a disability (disparate impact discrimination).
The Broad Scope of Disabilities
FEHA’s strength lies in its broad definition of disability. The FEHA prohibits discrimination against individuals who have a “physical disability, mental disability or medical condition.” California Government Code § 12920
A “physical disability” includes but is not limited to any physiological disease, disorder, condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss that both: (1) affects one or more of the following body systems: neurologic, immunological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin and endocrine; and (2) limits an individual’s ability to participate in major life activities. California Government Code § 12926(m)
The FEHA definition of “physical disability” also covers the following:(a) “any other health impairment … that requires special education or related services. The FEHA also defines “physical disability” as having a record or history of any of the specified physiological or anatomical conditions that is known to the employer. It also includes being regarded or treated by the employer as having or having had any physical condition that “makes achievement of a major life activity difficult.” Moreover, “physical disability” also includes being regarded or treated by the employer as having or having had a condition that currently has no disabling effect but may become an impairment limiting the individual’s ability to participate in major life activities. Last but not least, the FEHA may also prohibit an employer from taking adverse action against employees based on their association with another person who is or is perceived to be disabled.
A “mental disability” includes “any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, or specific learning disabilities” that “limits a major life activity.” California Government Code §12926(j)(1)
A “medical condition” means either: (a) cancer (health impairments related to or associated with a diagnosis of cancer or a record or history of cancer); or (b) genetic characteristics (any scientifically or medically identified gene chromosome, or combination or alteration thereof, or inherited characteristics that are known to cause or increase the risk of developing a disease or disorder in a person or the person’s offspring and that is presently not associated with any symptoms of any disease or disorder). California Government Code §12926(i)
A central element of FEHA is the need for employers to reasonably accommodate disabled employees. Employers must engage in a good-faith interactive process with employees to determine and implement reasonable accommodations. This might involve adjusting work schedules, providing assistive technology, or modifying the physical workspace.
Harassment and Retaliation Protections
FEHA prohibits harassment based on disability. Employers must take measures to prevent and address harassment, fostering a workplace culture that respects the dignity of all employees. Individuals who assert their rights under FEHA are protected from retaliation.
Education and Training
Prevention is crucial in promoting an inclusive workplace. Employers can benefit from providing education and training to employees on disability awareness, reasonable accommodations, and creating an environment free from discrimination.
Akopyan Law Firm, A.P.C. Provides Skilled, Experienced Representation
Employees seeking assistance due to disability discrimination in the workplace (www.akopyanlaw.com/practice-areas/disability-discrimination/) should contact Akopyan Law Firm, A.P.C. We are employment lawyers in Southern California who have helped hundreds of clients achieve great results. If you are involved in a dispute involving this area of employment law, our experienced employment lawyers stand ready to help. Visit our website to learn more. Akopyan Law Firm, A.P.C. provides a complimentary consultation and is proud of our many positive testimonials.