Employment laws prohibit discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as ethnic background, skin color, religious beliefs, and an employee’s family relationships or family caregiving obligations. Your health is also a protected characteristic. Medical privacy laws prevent you from being required to disclose any information about your health and medical history except in certain limited circumstances. (For example, if a job requires you to have vision that is at least as good as 20/30 with or without corrective lenses, the employer can require you to take a vision test, and you may wear your contact lenses for the vision test.) If you have an ongoing health condition that interferes with your ability to perform certain job duties, you may request accommodations from your employer without providing any sensitive information about your health history. Your employer must make these accommodations if they are able to make them. Refusal to provide disability accommodations is a form of employment discrimination. The Philadelphia disability and reasonable accommodations lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you request disability accommodations or represent you in a dispute with your employer about their refusal to provide accommodations.
Understanding Disability, Discrimination, and Reasonable Accommodations
Current laws require accommodations in many public venues for people with disabilities such as mobility impairment (for example, wheelchair ramps and designated parking spaces near the entrance to public buildings), blindness (for example, Braille numbers on elevator buttons and auditory cues at crosswalks), and Deafness (such as sign language interpreting or closed captioning on televised broadcasts of public announcements), but for purposes of employment law, these are only a few of the many kinds of disabilities. A disability is any long-term health condition that poses challenges to some aspects of an employee’s job. Chronic pain can be a disability whether it results from a traumatic injury, age-related osteoarthritis, autoimmune disease, or any other cause. Compromised immunity can also be a disability, whether its cause is a medication side effect or a disease itself.
Employees with disabilities can do the jobs for which they are qualified, but they need accommodation to work around the health condition that is causing problems. For example, a cashier who has chronic pain in his back and hips and can only walk with a cane or walker can be permitted to sit down at the cash register, even if company policy is for cashiers to stand throughout their shifts. An attendant in an outdoor parking lot may request permission to wear sunglasses at work if bright sunlight is a migraine trigger for her. An employee who must take immune-suppressing medications because he has a transplanted kidney can request to work from home on more days out of the year than other employees in his same position do. An accommodation is a modification to the work environment, work schedule, or job duties that alleviates the hardships caused by the employee’s disability while leaving the essence of the employee’s role intact. An accommodation is considered reasonable if the employer can provide it without suffering an excessive financial burden.
Discrimination is when an employer takes adverse actions against an employee because of a protected characteristic of the employee, such as race, sex, marital status, national origin, age, or sexual orientation. Adverse actions can include refusal to hire, denial of pay raises or reduction in pay, and termination of employment, among others. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) categorizes disability as a protected characteristic and prohibits discrimination based on it. Requesting accommodations for a disability is a protected action, and it is illegal for your employer to take adverse actions against you because of your request.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
The ADA requires employers with at least 15 employees on the payroll to provide accommodations for employees with disabilities; it assumes that the smallest businesses do not have the financial means to install wheelchair ramps and elevators and buy Braille keyboards and the like. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act extends the responsibility to provide disability accommodations to all employers with at least four employees. Meanwhile, a local law in Philadelphia requires all employers, no matter how many or how few employees work for them, to provide accommodations.
At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees workplace discrimination complaints. At the state level, this task belongs to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). If you experience disability discrimination at work in the Philadelphia area, you should consult an employment lawyer to help you interact with the EEOC or PHRC.
What Should You Do if an Employer Denies Your Request for a Reasonable Accommodation?
Employers must provide disability accommodations to employees currently employed, as well as to job applicants at all stages of the interview, onboarding, and training processes. To request an accommodation, you must give your employer a letter from your doctor, listing the accommodations you need; the letter does not include any information about your diagnosis. If your employer does not agree to provide the accommodation you requested, do not go straight to court. (The court would not help you, anyway, if you did that; an investigation by the EEOC or PHRC is a prerequisite to all employment discrimination lawsuits.) Instead, work with a lawyer to negotiate with your employer about an accommodation that they can provide. If your employer refuses to provide any accommodation at all, or if the employer fires you when you keep trying to negotiate, then it is time to escalate your case to the PHRC.
Getting accommodations for a disability so that you can do your job should be simple, but sometimes employers put up obstacles in front of employees who just want to get on with their work. An employment lawyer can help you navigate challenging situations like these.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Disability Discrimination
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if your employer refuses to provide the disability accommodations that you need. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.