Virginia law provides robust protections for employees and job applicants with disabilities, even beyond what the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) provides. Despite these protections, employment discrimination against people with disabilities still happens, and although a new law requires employers to take additional steps to notify workers of their rights, some employees are unaware that the mistreatment they have experienced counts as employment discrimination. If you have questions about your rights as a worker with a disability or about filing an employment discrimination complaint, contact the Arlington employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Federal and State Laws About Disability and Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace
Federal law prohibits discrimination against employees and job candidates based on disability, just as it prohibits discrimination based on other protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, national origin, age, or sexual orientation. According to the ADA, a disability is any health condition that significantly impairs one or more major life activities. Employment discrimination is any kind of unfair treatment directed at an employee because of their protected characteristic. For example, discrimination can include refusal to hire, wrongful termination of employment, denial of promotions and raises, or a hostile work environment characterized by threats, derogatory comments or offensive language related to the employee’s protected characteristic.
Federal and state laws also require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and job candidates with disabilities. According to Virginia law, the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to current and prospective employees with disabilities applies to all companies who have had five or more employees on their payroll for 20 or more weeks in the current calendar year or the previous calendar year. Employers must provide the accommodations to an employee who requests them not only after the employee is hired, but also at job interviews and during pre-employment testing and training.
An accommodation is any device or service that enables the employee to fulfill the essential functions of the job; without this accommodation, the employee’s disability would prevent them from being able to do the job. These are some types of accommodations that employers provide to employees with disabilities:
- Modifications to the work area, such as putting a chair in front a cash register for a cashier who, because of his disability, cannot stand for an entire shift
- Modifications to the employee’s work schedule to accommodate medical appointments or medication doses and side effects
- Devices and software that make the workplace and its equipment accessible, such as Braille keyboards or closed captioning
- The services of assistants such as readers, sign language interpreters, or drivers during some or all work tasks
A reasonable accommodation is any accommodation that does not cause the employer undue hardship in the form of prohibitive cost or associated hazards or dangers. An accommodation is not reasonable if the employee also uses it outside of work. You can ask your employer to pay for a wheelchair-accessible work desk, but not to pay for your wheelchair, since you would still use it even if you did not have your job.
Employer Requirements About Handbooks and Notices
In 2021, Virginia enacted a law requiring employers to take more initiative in making workers aware of their rights to reasonable accommodations. The pursuit of reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities should be an interactive process between employees and employers. All companies with five or more employees must display in a conspicuous location in the workplace a poster informing workers of their right to request and receive reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. They must also include this information in their employee handbooks. Likewise, when an employee discloses their disability to the employer, the employer must verbally notify the employee, within 10 days of the disclosure, of their right to request reasonable accommodations. Notably, the disclosures state that the employer cannot require the employee to take leave if other accommodations are available.
Pregnancy Accommodations and Virginia Law
The 2021 law about employer notices regarding reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities is patterned very closely on a 2020 law about workplace accommodations for pregnant employees. Employee handbooks and conspicuously displayed posters must notify workers of the right to request and receive reasonable accommodations during pregnancy. Likewise, when an employee discloses her pregnancy to her employer, the employer must verbally offer, within 10 days of the disclosure, to provide reasonable accommodations.
Filing a Complaint About Employment Discrimination Based on Disability
Employees in Virginia who have experienced employment discrimination from their employers should contact the Office of Civil Rights at the Office of the Attorney General. It may also be appropriate to notify the human rights office at your company or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Speaking up about employment discrimination is rarely enough to make the discriminatory behavior stop; retaliation often begins when employees complain, or express intention to complain, about employment discrimination.
If you are wondering what is the best time in the process to involve the employment lawyers at the Arlington employment lawyers at HKM Employment Lawyers LLP, the right time is now. If you have not yet requested an accommodation but are planning to request one, your lawyer can let you know what to expect from the interactive process and how to stand up for your rights during it. If your employer is being evasive or otherwise difficult about providing the accommodations you have requested, that is all the more reason not to wait to contact a lawyer. If you have made the decision to file a complaint, you need high quality legal representation to protect you from vulnerability to even worse retaliation than what you have already experienced.
Contact a Virginia Employment Lawyer About Disability Accommodations
In Virginia, the law is on your side to get reasonable accommodations in the workplace. An employment discrimination lawyer can help you navigate the process of requesting accommodations or filing a complaint if your employer refuses to provide them. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Arlington, Virginia to set up a consultation.