Understanding Disability Accommodation Laws in California

In California, individuals with disabilities are protected by robust laws that mandate employers to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure equal employment opportunities. These laws aim to prevent discrimination against employees or job applicants based on their disabilities and promote inclusivity in the workplace.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various areas, including employment. While the ADA sets a minimum standard, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides even stronger protections for individuals with disabilities. FEHA applies to employers with five or more employees, whereas the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Defining Disability

Under both the ADA and FEHA, disability is broadly defined to encompass physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include functions like walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, and performing manual tasks.

Reasonable Accommodation

Both the ADA and FEHA require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would create undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications that enable individuals with disabilities to perform essential job functions or enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Modifications to the work environment or workspace
  • Providing assistive devices or equipment
  • Adjusting work schedules or granting flexible leave policies
  • Making changes to policies or procedures
  • Reassigning an employee to a vacant position
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters

The Interactive Process

When an employee or job applicant requests an accommodation, the employer is required to engage in an interactive process. This process involves an open and meaningful dialogue between the employer and the individual with a disability to determine appropriate accommodations. The employer should evaluate the request, seek input from the employee, and consider potential alternatives.

Undue Hardship

While employers are generally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations, they are not required to make accommodations that would cause undue hardship. Factors considered when determining undue hardship include the nature and cost of the accommodation, the financial resources of the employer, and the overall size and structure of the business.

Retaliation and Harassment

FEHA and the ADA protect individuals from retaliation or harassment for exercising their rights or opposing discriminatory practices related to disability accommodations. Employers are prohibited from taking adverse action against employees who request accommodations or file complaints.

Enforcement and Remedies

If an individual believes their rights have been violated, they can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Remedies for violations of disability accommodation laws may include back pay, reinstatement, reasonable attorney’s fees, and other compensatory or punitive damages.

Disability accommodation laws in California play a vital role in promoting equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. However, having experienced legal guidance is crucial to ensure your rights are not being violated.

Employment Attorney Terry K. Davis is dedicated to protecting the rights of workers throughout southern California. Contact him today at 714.558.9529 for a free consultation.