Millions of people with disabilities hold gainful employment in the state of Washington, and many of them do so with the help of employer-provided accommodations. If you have a disability, you know that some public settings pose more of a challenge than others. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and other federal and state laws prohibit employment discrimination based on disability and require workplaces and other public venues to be set up so as not to exclude people with disabilities, to whatever extent possible. While there is greater public discussion about disabilities and less social stigma than there was a generation ago, employers do not always accommodate workers with disabilities the way that the law requires them to. The Bellevue employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you request that your employer provide accommodations for your disability or exercise your rights if your employer has denied your request for reasonable accommodation.
What is a Disability?
In the context of employment law, a disability is a physical or mental health condition that substantially interferes with a person’s ability to do their job. Disabilities can be temporary or permanent, and they may or may not be immediately noticeable to other people. Federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability include the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. At the state level, the Washington Law Against Disability (WLAD) prohibits employment discrimination.
Medical privacy laws prohibit your employer from asking you about your diagnosis. If you have a disability, you must only provide documentation from your employer saying that you have a disability and specifying which accommodations you need to perform your job. For example, you might indicate that you need to take breaks every two hours to take medication or test your blood sugar, but it is none of your employer’s business whether your diabetes is type I or type II and when you were diagnosed. If you use a wheelchair, you might request to be assigned to work in a building with a wheelchair ramp and an elevator, but it is none of your employer’s business whether you use a wheelchair because of spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, or any other condition.
What is Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination is when an employer takes adverse action against an employee or treats the employee unfairly because of a protected characteristic of the employee. The characteristics protected under federal anti-discrimination laws are race, religion, gender, family status, national origin, age (over 40), and disability. WLAD also protects against discrimination based on hair texture or citizenship status.
The following are adverse actions that employers might take; if the employer’s motivation to do these things was the employee’s protected characteristic, then these actions count as employment discrimination:
- Rejection of an employment application
- Rescinding a job offer
- Hiring the employee at a lower rate of pay than other employees in similar positions and with a similar professional background
- Demotions and denial of promotions and raises
- Unjustifiably negative performance reviews
- Termination of employment, unrelated to misconduct on the employee’s part
- Sabotaging the employee’s chances of future employment by giving a negative reference to prospective employers
More insidious than all of these types of employment discrimination is the discrimination that manifests itself when the employer retaliates against an employee stands up for their rights. Retaliation is when the employer takes an adverse action in response to an employee expressing a formal or informal complaint about workplace discrimination, requests a reasonable accommodation for their disability, participates in an investigation into another employee’s discrimination complaint, or acts as a whistleblower about widespread discrimination in the workplace.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
Just as there are many kinds of disabilities, the variety of accommodations that would enable employees with disabilities to do their jobs is theoretically endless. Anything the employer does to help the employee is an accommodation if the employee can do the job with this help but cannot do their job without it. Whether an accommodation is reasonable depends on the employer’s resources; if it would be dangerous or prohibitively expensive for the employer to provide the accommodation, then the accommodation is not reasonable. Requested accommodations have the presumption of reasonableness; the burden of proof is on the employer to show that the accommodation that the employer is requesting would cause undue hardship to the employer.
For example, it is certainly a reasonable accommodation if a deaf employee asks the employer to enable closed captioning on pre-employment training videos. It is not a reasonable accommodation if a man who uses a wheelchair applies for a job as a powerline technician and requests that the employer provide a device that would lift him up to the wires in his wheelchair, but it is a reasonable accommodation if he applies for a job with the same powerline repair company and requests that the employer build a wheelchair ramp and place wooden boards to create a path from the parking lot to the portable office where he will work. In general, the smaller the company, the fewer resources it has to provide accommodations, so in a small business, only modest accommodations would not cause undue hardship for the employer. The law provides a dispute resolution process for when employers and employees disagree about whether the disability accommodations an employee has requested are reasonable.
When to Contact an Employment Lawyer About Disability Accommodations
If you have recently been diagnosed with a disabling medical condition, and you have discussed with your doctor what kinds of accommodations you will need, you should next meet with a lawyer to strategize about requesting those accommodations. Your lawyer can even help you draft a request letter. You definitely need an employment discrimination lawyer if your employer has denied the accommodations you have requested.
Contact a Washington Employment Lawyer About Disability Accommodations
An employment lawyer can help you if your employer has retaliated against you after you requested a reasonable accommodation for your disability. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Bellevue, Washington to set up a consultation.