By Angela M. Ward, Attorney
Workplace discrimination comes in many forms. It can show up in unfair hiring or layoffs, in salaries or promotions, and in work terms and conditions. Employers might discriminate for a variety of reasons, including sex, race, religion, age, and national origin.
Fortunately, numerous federal laws exist to protect employees from certain forms of workplace discrimination. Workers with disabilities have a specific law on their side, the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA protects employees from disability discrimination in Lancaster County and beyond. While most employers abide by the rules set forth in the ADA, some do not. That’s why it is important for workers with disabilities to understand their rights under the law and to consult with an experienced employment attorney if they believe their employer is violating those rights.
Here are some key points to know:
What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990 and prohibits discrimination because of a disability in all areas of public life, including the workplace. It protects those workers with disabilities from unfair treatment either in the job application and hiring process, firing, or in any aspect of employment, including training, advancement, compensation, and other workplace conditions.
What Does the ADA Consider a Disability?
The ADA does not offer a specific list of conditions that it covers. Rather, the law defines an individual with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as hearing, speaking, breathing, walking, learning, caring for oneself, or performing manual tasks. The law also covers someone who has a history of such an impairment or someone who is perceived to have an impairment. Disabilities can include conditions that limit sight, mobility, or hearing; mental or psychological conditions, such as an intellectual disability or a specific learning disability, emotional or mental illness; conditions affecting various bodily systems; and chronic illnesses, such as HIV or epilepsy.
Which Lancaster County Employers Must Follow ADA Guidelines?
All private employers, state and local governments, educational institutions, employment agencies, labor organizations, and labor-management committees with 15 or more employees must comply with the ADA and reasonably accommodate the everyday challenges of their disabled employees.
A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a job or work environment that allows an employee to enjoy equal employment opportunities. It might include anything from wheelchair accessibility, readers, and interpreters to modified equipment, workstations, or work schedules.
Does the ADA Allow Anyone With a Disability to Claim Workplace Discrimination?
While the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits workplace discrimination, there are some qualifications. The ADA will only protect an employee from disability discrimination in Lancaster County if that employee is qualified for the job in question. In terms of hiring, the applicant with a disability must have the required educational background, experience, skills, and licenses. They also must be able to perform essential tasks of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
An employer cannot reject an otherwise qualified candidate solely on the basis of their disability; however, they have a right to hire the most qualified candidate. Those who lack the qualifications for recruitment or advancement cannot claim discrimination in Pennsylvania. An employer can also refuse to hire someone with a disability if they can show that the individual would cause a direct threat of harm to themselves or others.
What Are the Responsibilities of Lancaster County Employees Who Have Disabilities?
Not all disabilities are obvious, and even when they are the need for accommodation is not always clear. If an employee uses a wheelchair, the need for reasonable accommodations, such as a ramp and a modified workstation, might be clear. However, an employer may not know that a worker needs a better chair to accommodate a back injury, an adjusted schedule to accommodate medical treatment, or a work-from-home option due to anxiety.
Employers violate the ADA when they fail to accommodate known disabilities, but employees have an obligation to inform their employers of any disability that requires some sort of accommodation. A company’s employee handbook should include a clear policy that outlines how and to whom an employee should report a disability and a request for accommodation.
There may be cases where providing the requested accommodation would cause undue financial hardship or difficulty for an employer. In those instances, an employer might suggest an alternative accommodation, look to an outside source for funding, or explore the possibility of sharing the cost of the accommodation with the employee.
How to Recognize Workplace Discrimination
Workers should be watchful of signs that an employer treats them differently because of a known or suspected disability. An employer cannot harass an employee because of their disability or penalize them because they can’t perform a marginal or non-essential job function. The interviewer or supervisor may not ask a job applicant if they have a disability or about the nature of an easily-detected disability. They cannot ask an applicant with a disability to pass a medical exam unless all new employees must pass the same exam.
In most cases, they also cannot deny an employee with a disability reasonable accommodations, including service animals. It is considered discrimination in Pennsylvania to prohibit an employee from using a service animal trained to perform tasks or assist those who are blind, deaf, or have other physical disabilities. As with all accommodations, there are exceptions, in particular, if an employer can show that having an animal in the workplace causes health or safety risks. In such cases, the employer may offer alternative accommodation.
Seek Help If You Suspect Disability Discrimination in Lancaster County
The law does not allow workplace discrimination in Pennsylvania. Qualified workers who believe an employer denied them a job or treated them unfairly in terms of pay, job assignments, training, fringe benefits, layoffs, or other work conditions because they have a disability, or a history of a disability, should contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster. We can review the situation, determine if there is a legal case for disability discrimination, and fight for the employee’s rights.
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