In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in the workplace on the basis of religion, color, race, sex or national origin. Since then, federal and state courts have expanded discrimination laws to protect employees with health issues and disabilities from being treated differently in the workplace. Before you can understand your legal rights as an injured worker, it’s important to know if your condition qualifies you as a having a disability.
Who is protected from disability discrimination at work?
An individual is considered to have a disability if he or she has a mental or physical impairment that considerably limits major life activities such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, thinking, communicating, or learning. Covered individuals may include those with paralysis, epilepsy, or mental retardation, but not those with minor, non-chronic conditions like a broken bone or the flu. An individual is also protected if he or she has a history of impairment. For example, a person who once had breast cancer or bipolar disorder, but has now recovered. These protections apply to both job applicants and employees.
Know your rights as an injured worker
Anti-discrimination laws provide rights to job applicants and employees with lasting physical or mental impairments. Understanding these rights can help an injured worker avoid discrimination or take legal action against an employer who violates them. There are three federal laws that protect an injured worker from disability discrimination in the workplace.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against employees due to a disability, perceived disability, or association with someone who has a disability. As part of prohibiting discrimination, an employer is required to grant reasonable accommodations to help a disabled worker apply for a job, perform his or her job duties, or enjoy the benefits of employment. The ADA protects private sector workers who work at a company with 15 or more employees.
This law is essentially identical to the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibiting discrimination in all employment practices including application procedures, hiring, layoff, tenure, fringe benefits, firing, advancement, training, and compensation. The only difference is that the Rehab Act covers employees of the federal government, rather than those who work in the private sector. The protection applies to every federal agency, regardless of how many employees it has.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that provides people with health issues and disabilities up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to recover from a serious health condition or to care for a family member in need. Under the FMLA, qualified employees are guaranteed this time off without the threat of losing their job.
Am I required to tell my employer about my disability?
Deciding whether to disclose your disability is a personal choice and will depend on a variety of factors, like whether your disability is apparent, whether you think you’re being treated differently because of your disability, or whether you need an accommodation to perform your job duties. Keep in mind that an employer is only obligated to make accommodations or approve FMLA leave for a known disability. If you think you’ll need an accommodation to apply for a job or to perform essential job duties, or that you’ll need time off to recover from a serious health problem, you should tell the employer about your disability. This way, you are protected under the ADA or FMLA if he or she does not comply.
What to do if your employer discriminates against you
If you believe you have suffered discrimination in the workplace due to your disability, you may be eligible to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Equal Employment Opportunity office for your federal agency. There are filing deadlines for both, so it’s important take action quickly.
At the Law Offices of Gerald D. Brody & Associates, we can walk you through the filing process, tell you what to expect, and fight on your behalf. It all starts with a free, initial consultation where one of our experienced attorneys will review your case. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment.