Millions of people in the United States work full-time or part-time even though they have medical disabilities that emerged early in their lives or resulted from illnesses or injuries they suffered as adults. People with disabilities know which accommodations they need to make it possible for them to do the jobs for which they have trained and built their skills. In many cases, refusal by employers to hire people with disabilities or to make reasonable accommodations creates a bigger obstacle to employment and to career success than the disability itself. The Alabama disability discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help resolve disputes between employees and employers over reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) counted among its goals making workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the ADA, not only is it illegal to discriminate against job candidates because of their disabilities, but when an employer accepts a job application from a person with disabilities and offers that person a job, the employer must make reasonable accommodations. In other words, saying, “We would love to hire you, but our office is on the second floor, and this building has no elevator, so there is no way you can get to work in your wheelchair” is no better than refusing outright to hire a person with a disability. In this case, where the work location is in a non-accessible building, a reasonable accommodation might mean having the employee work from home or from a shared office space in an accessible building and to meet colleagues in accessible locations when the work requires it.
The 2008 Changes to the Definition of a Disability
If you or someone close to you has a disability, then you know how misunderstood most disabilities are by the general public. Because so many public buildings have wheelchair ramps, signs in Braille, and parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities, most people are aware that disabilities exist, but they have never really thought about what it is like to live with a disability or what amenities or software at work makes it feasible for people with disabilities to do their jobs. The ADA includes as a disability as any significant impairment to a person’s body or health that presents major challenges in performing one’s job duties without reasonable accommodations; disabilities can be temporary or permanent, and they can be visible or invisible. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission includes a list of disabilities about which employers cannot discriminate against employees and job candidates.
In 2008, the federal government enacted an amendment to the ADA. Under the new version of the law, the definition of “disability” is broader for the sake of employment discrimination cases. Before the amendments, a health condition only counted as a disability if it substantially limited a major life activity. Under the current text of the law, you can allege employment discrimination if an employer refuses to hire you or takes action against you for any health-related reason. In other words, if it counts as a pre-exiting condition for health insurance purposes, it counts as a disability in the context of employment discrimination law.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
A disability accommodation is an activity or a piece of equipment or software that enables a person with a disability to do their job. Examples of accommodations include wheelchair-accessible desks, captioning of video or audio recordings, or bringing a guide dog to work. An accommodation is considered reasonable if it would not cause an undue burden to the employer. For example, a blind employee who has applications on his computer to allow him to read text might request that he be allowed to use his personal computer at work. If the employer does not agree to this because they do not want to store the company’s confidential information on the employee’s personal computer, he might request that the employer install accessibility programs on his work-issued computer.
In general, the bigger a company is, the more resources it has with which to make accommodations. According to federal law, all public sector employers, as well as all private sector employers with 15 employees or more are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, or else face employment discrimination lawsuits. No one expects a four-person accountancy firm operating out of a second-floor office in a building with no elevator to move to an accessible building upon hiring a fifth accountant who uses a wheelchair, but as in the example given above, the company might authorize the employee to work from an alternate location.
The text of the law cannot list every possible example of what counts as a reasonable accommodation. In some cases, there is room for disagreement about whether an accommodation is reasonable or whether it constitutes an undue burden. Alabama case law contains rulings in favor of employers and others in favor of employees in disputes about whether the accommodation requested by the employee presents an undue burden for the employer.
Alabama Laws About Accommodations for Employees With Disabilities
Alabama does not have its own separate state law about employment discrimination on the basis of disability or about disability accommodations in the workplace. Instead, it applies the federal law to all employees of the state of Alabama and its counties and cities, as well as to private businesses with 15 employees or more. In Alabama, it is against the law to refuse to hire an employee simply because doing so would require the employer to make disability accommodations for the employee. It is also against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who requests a disability accommodation, such as by firing the employee, denying them a raise, or reassigning them to undesirable tasks.
Contact an Alabama Data Breach Lawyer
An Alabama employment discrimination lawyer can help you recover damages if you have been denied reasonable accommodations for your disability. Contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.