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Employment Law Basics Part 1: Disability Discrimination


The Birmingham Employment Lawyers at Michel | King Michel & Kingstrive to provide their clients and the community with information necessary to recognize when their rights as employees or applicants are being violated. This blog series will provide some basic information regarding specific areas of employment law that may apply to you or someone you know. If you have specific questions about these legal principles or your own employment situation, contact us.

What is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination refers to actions employers take that result in employees or applicants being treated unfavorably because of their disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act. Only covered employees and employers are governed by these statutes.

Disability discrimination laws also protect employees and applicants who are treated less favorably because they have a history of a disability or are perceived to have one. Federal disability discrimination laws also protect individuals from being discriminated against because of their relationship with someone who has a disability, such as a spouse. With perceived disabilities, it must be believed that the individual has a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory and minor. “Transitory” essentially means the impairment is expected to last six months or less.

For example, an employee who had cancer and is now in remission could still suffer discrimination because of his history of cancer. A less common situation is an employee or applicant being treated unfavorably because they are believed to have a disability even if they actually do not.

Providing Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities

The disability laws require employers to make reasonable accommodations available to disabled employees or job applicants, but only if providing that accommodation does not result in significant burden or expense on the employer. This is referred to as “undue hardship,” and it can be a very difficult issue to navigate.

Harassment Based on Disability

Just like sexual harassment or racial harassment, it is unlawful for employers or co-workers to harass an employee or applicant because she has a disability, has a history of disability, or is perceived to have a disability. Harassment includes offensive statements about someone’s disability but typically does not include simple teasing or isolated, offhand comments. Like other forms of workplace harassment, the comments or conduct must be sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment. The harassment can also be actionable if it results in an adverse employment decision.

Restrictions on Medical Exams

Employers are restricted on what they can ask potential employees, particularly relating to medical questions or other questions that may be used to identify a disability. Another important issue involves the requirement of medical exams both during the application process and during employment.

Once an applicant is actually offered a job, employers can require medical exams or ask certain medical questions as a condition of the job offer but only if all employees are required to answer the same questions or submit to the same exam. Once employed, employers are typically limited to asking medical questions or requiring medical exams in order to substantiate a request for accommodation or there is a suspicion that the employee cannot perform their job duties safely because of a medical condition.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!

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