If you live with a chronic health condition, it has become a normal part of your life. You have developed workarounds for a lot of things that are easy for most people but used to be difficult for you. Perhaps you depend on your smartphone in ways other than the way most other people do. Maybe your house is set up in a way that surprises first-time visitors, but you need it this way in order to stay safe and productive. Employees with disabilities have the right to modify their work environment, work schedule, or work equipment in a way that enables them to perform their job duties, as long as these modifications do not pose an undue burden for the employer and its other employees; this is called a reasonable accommodation. Since there are so many kinds of jobs and so many kinds of disabilities, what counts as a reasonable accommodation varies on a case-by-case basis. Reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities are a common source of disputes between employers and employees. The Spokane disability and reasonable accommodations lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you negotiate with your employer for the accommodations you need or file a complaint if your employer retaliated against you after you requested accommodations.
Disabilities, Medical Privacy, and Living a Normal Life
In the context of employment law, the definition of disability is any chronic health condition that interferes with a person’s ability to perform one or more everyday tasks. This means that disabilities can be temporary or permanent, and they may or may not be immediately noticeable to others. They can arise from physical or mental illnesses or accidental injuries. If you have a chronic illness, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, then the nature and severity of your disabilities can change over time.
You probably do not feel like explaining all of this at every job interview, and you do not have to. Your employer does not even have the right to ask you about your medical history. When you received a diagnosis, which medications you take, and when the best and worst times since your symptoms appeared are none of your employer’s business. What matters in your professional life is your ability to do your job and, if applicable, the ways in which your workplace or your employer’s requirements interfere with this ability. If your employer offers you a job as a receptionist but says that you cannot bring your wheelchair to the office, it is not much of a job offer. If you require certain locations or devices in order to do tasks outside of work that are similar to your work tasks, you have the right to use these at work.
When you request disability accommodations from an employer, you must present a letter from your doctor stating which accommodations you need. The letter does not contain any information about your diagnosis or medical history. The details of how and to what extent your employer can make those accommodations are the result of a negotiation process between you and your employer.
Disability is a Protected Characteristic Under Employment Law
A protected characteristic is a feature of an employee’s physical appearance, personal history, or family background that is not related to the employee’s current employment and based on which employers may not discriminate. Examples of protected characteristics include race, sex, country of origin, religion, marital status, age, sexual orientation, and military status. Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, disability is a protected characteristic.
Employment law defines discrimination as treating employees or job candidates unfairly or taking adverse actions against them because of protected characteristics of the employees. These are some ways that disability discrimination can manifest itself in the workplace:
- Asking questions about the employee’s disability or medical history during the job interview process
- Making derogatory comments about people with a medical condition that the employee has disclosed that he has or that coworkers assume that the employee has
- Demoting the employee or reassigning her to undesirable work tasks after she discloses that she has a disability
- Unfairly negative performance reviews of employees who have requested accommodations for a disability
- Terminating the employment of an employee who has complained about disability discrimination
Reasonable Accommodations for Employees With Disabilities: The Rights and Obligations of Employers and Employees
Not only does the law protect employees from discrimination, which is where an employer takes adverse action against an employee because of a protected characteristic, but it also prohibits retaliation. Employer retaliation is when an employer takes adverse action against an employee in response to an employee engaging in a protected activity. Some examples of protected activities include filing workers’ compensation claims, requesting family leave or medical leave, reporting crimes, violations of legal regulations, or incidents of discrimination that the employee has witnessed in the workplace.
Requesting accommodations for a disability is a legally protected activity. The law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities; if the employee presents a letter stating that he has a disability and requires certain accommodations, the employer should proactively propose accommodations they can make. Not every request for accommodations ends either in the employee getting exactly the accommodation she asked for or in a disability discrimination lawsuit; which accommodations the employer can reasonably make will depend on the employer’s resources. In practice, getting reasonable accommodations for a disability at work is a multi-step process of negotiation. You always have the right to consult an employment lawyer when requesting accommodations or negotiating with your employer about which accommodations are reasonable. The Spokane disability discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you get the disability accommodations you need at your workplace.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP
The Spokane employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, can help you if you require disability accommodations at work or if your employer retaliated against you after you requested accommodations. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Spokane, Washington, to set up a consultation.