Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or job applicant unfavorably because he or she has a disability. Both state and federal statutes prohibit disability discrimination in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal statute located in the United States Code, beginning at 42 U.S.C. §12101, and the Rehabilitation Act is a federal statute located in the United States Code, beginning at 29 U.S.C. §701.
But not everyone with a medical condition is protected from discrimination. In order to be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law.
A person can have a disability in one of three ways:
• A person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity—such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning, or operation of a major bodily function.
• A person has a disability if he or she has a history of a disability, such as cancer that is in remission.
• A person has a disability if he or she is subject to an adverse employment action and is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and not minor (even if he or she does not have such an impairment).
Disability discrimination also occurs when a covered employer or other entity treats a job applicant or employee less favorably because he or she has a history of a disability (such as a past major depressive episode) or because he or she is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and not minor (even if he or she does not have such an impairment).
The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer—known as undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done) to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. Reasonable accommodation might include, for example, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired.
Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer's size, financial resources, and the needs of the business. An employer may not refuse to provide an accommodation just because it involves some cost. An employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation the employee or job applicant wants. If more than one accommodation works, the employer may choose which one to provide.