Living with a disability is challenging. Living with discrimination because of that condition makes the challenge even more difficult. The Americans with Disabilities Act is one of several federal anti-discrimination laws that protect those with handicaps from unfair treatment in the job hiring process and during your employment.
The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more life activities. It can include conditions that limit mobility, sight or hearing; a psychological condition or mental disability; and chronic conditions such as epilepsy or HIV. The law not only protects from workplace discrimination those who have a disability but also employees with a history of disability and employees who have a relationship with someone who has a disability. Those protections extend to all aspects of employment, from hiring, firing, and promotions to training, benefits, and everyday work environment.
If you are living with a disability in Lancaster County, here is what you need to know about your rights in the workplace:
Rights for an ADA Compliant Workplace
Private businesses, educational institutions, employment agencies, labor organizations, and state and local government agencies in Lancaster County with 15 or more employees must accommodate the everyday challenges of their disabled employees within reason. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not lay out a specific set of rules that employers must follow to make their workplace ADA compliant. Rather, the law requires that companies meet the varying and unique challenges of employees with disabilities as they arise.
Lancaster Workplaces Must Accommodate Disabilities
Some disabilities are obvious, such as vision impairment or the need for a wheelchair, while others are not as visible or understood. An employer may easily see the need for a modified workstation to accommodate a wheelchair, but they may have more difficulty understanding the needs of an employee who suffers from anxiety. If you have a disability, it is your responsibility to report it to your employer.
A company’s employee handbook should include a clear policy that outlines how and to whom you should report a disability and your request for an accommodation. Making reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability does not necessarily mean meeting the employee’s exact request if, for instance, the employer can prove it would cause undue financial hardship or difficulty.
ADA Says You Can’t Be Refused Employment Because of Disability
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for an employer to deny you a job opportunity based on your disability if you have the skills, education, and experience necessary to perform the essential functions of the job, even if you require certain accommodations. The ADA also requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities, including a wheelchair ramp and enlarged doorways, modified work schedules and equipment, readers or interpreters, and modified tests and training materials.
Such accommodations apply not only to the job itself but also to the hiring process. As with all laws, there are exceptions. An employer may refuse to hire you for a particular position if they determine you would pose a direct threat of substantial harm to yourself or others, and that a reasonable accommodation would not significantly reduce that threat. In general, however, your disability can’t be the reason an employer chooses not to hire you.
Lancaster County Employers Must Accommodate Service Animals
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for an employer to prohibit an employee with a disability from using a service animal. By definition, service animals are individually trained and certified to perform tasks or do work to assist those who are blind, deaf, or have other physical disabilities. Those tasks may include providing stability for someone who has difficulty walking, guiding someone with vision issues, or picking up items for someone in a wheelchair.
Again, there are exceptions, in particular, if an employer can show that having an animal in the workplace poses health or safety risks. In some cases, an employer may also offer alternative accommodations.
Employers Can’t Base Promotion or Raise Decisions on Disability
The threat of disability discrimination doesn’t necessarily end once you get the job. Be watchful of signs that your employer treats you differently because they know or suspect you have a disability. It is illegal for an employer to deny you opportunities in the workplace, such as promotions, raises, additional job opportunities and training, benefits, or other activities because of a disability. An employer also may not penalize you because you can’t perform a marginal, or non-essential job function.
Pennsylvania Employers Can’t Retaliate if Employees File a Complaint
It’s natural to feel intimidated by the idea of taking legal action against your employer. You may fear retaliation in the form of harassment, hostility, or possibly even job loss. Fortunately, just as the law establishes employee rights in the workplace, it also protects you when you fight for those rights. It is illegal to refuse employment, demote, transfer to an undesirable job, or terminate an employee because they took action to protect their rights. If you filed a complaint against your employer due to disability discrimination and you now believe your employer is retaliating against you, contact a Lancaster lawyer experienced in workplace discrimination.
Do You Suspect Discrimination in Your Workplace?
If you suspect disability discrimination in the workplace is affecting your job, income, safety, benefits, or professional advancement, an experienced Lancaster attorney can help. Contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster. We will review your situation, help you decide if you should take legal action, ensure you meet all deadlines for filing a complaint, and fight to protect your employee rights.
Discover more about your workplace rights in these blogs by Angela M. Ward, Attorney.