America continues to make steady progress in the workplace when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In 2019, employees with disabilities made up 19.3% of the United States workforce, up from 19.1% in 2018. Unfortunately, an increase in disabled persons in the workplace does not necessarily mean they receive the treatment and accommodations that they deserve.
Despite federal and state laws, disability discrimination is a real problem that workers face every day. If you work in Boston and you’ve experienced discrimination or harassment based on a permanent or temporary disability, then an experienced disability discrimination lawyer can help you seek fair treatment as well as compensation for any damages.
What is Disability Discrimination?
Disability discrimination happens when an employee or potential employee is treated unfavorably by the employer because of an underlying disability. This can either be a permanent-partial disability like vision damage, or a temporary disability like pregnancy.
Both federal and Massachusetts state laws prohibit any form of disability discrimination in the workplace. The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act makes it illegal for businesses and organizations with six or more employees to discriminate based on membership in a given protected class, including race, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, age, or disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals based on physical or mental disabilities. The ADA is a civil rights law that applies to local and state governments (regardless of the number of employees) as well as private employers with fifteen or more employees.
An employee who is injured, disabled, or pregnant may qualify for a disability or medical-related leave under either of the two federal laws: the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
As stated, pregnancy is regarded as a temporary disability by law. In these cases, any unfair treatment by an employer could be considered a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
What Causes Disability Discrimination?
Common types of disability discrimination in the workplace include harassment, wrongful termination, demotion, hostile work environment, or failure to hire/promote. Employees who suffer from these types of discrimination are at risk for poor work performance, stress, and depression.
Due to the psychological and legal consequences, it can be difficult to understand why an employer may create a hostile work environment for employees with disabilities. Some reasons why this still happens in the workplace include:
Cultural & Societal Stigmatization
Ignorance and stigmatization often go hand-in-hand. If an employer has not experienced a disability themselves or does not have someone with an impairment in their social circles, they may not have a clear understanding of their employee’s needs or limitations. This may result in a negative or apathetic attitude towards those with disabilities.
Not Understanding Accommodations
Employers are legally required to offer proper accommodation to employees with disabilities to ensure that they can perform their duties to the best of their ability. Some employers may not want to spend the extra money required to maintain ADA compliance or offer additional accommodations.
An example would be a business that runs out of a top-floor penthouse with lots of stairs, but no elevator. Disability discrimination laws at the state and federal levels require that the employer provide reasonable accommodation to an applicant or employee with disabilities to help them do their job. Employees who would have difficulty accessing the office due to a permanent or temporary disability have a right to request accommodations for their needs.
What is the Interactive Process in Massachusetts?
Employees experiencing disability discrimination based on lack of accommodation should allow their employer to rectify the issue by initiating an interactive dialogue.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) outlines a detailed process to help employees and employers identify the precise limitation that is causing an issue and then create a plan to make reasonable accommodations to resolve the problem.
An example of this would be an employee who has a mobile disability. They would like to initiate an interactive dialogue with their employer to get a parking spot that’s closer to the front door. If the employer refuses to even engage with the employee to discuss their options, then the employee may have a case for disability discrimination.
Consult with a Disability Discrimination Attorney Today
At HKM Employment Attorneys, our practice areas cover a wide spectrum of employment law matters, including workplace discrimination due to sexual orientation, age, gender identity, religion, and disability.
If you have experienced disability discrimination while at work, then reach out to our attorneys today to schedule an initial consultation. We look forward to hearing the details of your case and determining the best course of action to help you get the treatment you deserve.