By Angela M. Ward, Attorney
Although living with a disability is difficult, experiencing discrimination in employment can make it worse. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of several federal laws against discrimination designed to stop unfair or prejudicial treatment during the hiring process and at the workplace once hired. According to the ADA, disabilities are any mental or physical impairment that interferes with everyday life activities. This definition is intentionally broad, including conditions that limit senses like sight or hearing, mobility problems, mental disabilities, and psychological conditions, and chronic diseases like HIV. The ADA also protects employees with a history of disability and people who have relationships with someone disabled. These protections cover many aspects of employment, including termination, hiring, promotions, training, benefits, and the day-to-day work environment.
Here’s how Lancaster County workplace disability protections work:
Employers Must Provide ADA-Compliant Workplaces
Private businesses, state and local government agencies in Lancaster County, educational institutions, labor organizations, and employment agencies must all accommodate the needs of disabled employees within reason if they have 15 or more employees. The ADA was written to match the diversity of disabled people. As such, it does not specify exact guidelines that employers must follow to make their organization ADA compliant. Instead, the law requires that employers accommodate the unique and various needs that employees with disabilities face as they develop and change.
Lancaster Businesses Must Accommodate Disabilities
Although some disabilities are clearly visible, like the need for a wheelchair or severe vision impairment, other disabilities are not as well understood or obvious. Employers may see that someone using a wheelchair may need a different workstation than other employees, but they can have trouble understanding how to accommodate an employee with anxiety or depression. People with disabilities are responsible for reporting it to their employer, but employers must have an ADA policy in place, and that policy should be clear in the handbook. Fulfilling reasonable accommodations does not mean that employers must meet the employee’s request exactly; for instance, the employer can demonstrate the accommodation would be prohibitively expensive or suggest an alternative accommodation that suits the employee’s needs completely.
Employers Cannot Refuse Employment Because of Disability
Under the ADA, it is unlawful for employers to deny applicants jobs based on their disability, as long as they have the skills, education, and experience necessary to perform the position’s primary functions with reasonable accommodation. Those accommodations can include modified work schedules and equipment, wheelchair ramps, readers or interpreters, and modified training materials and tests. These accommodations apply to the hiring process in addition to the job itself.
There are exceptions to the ADA’s requirements. Employers are permitted to refuse a job to an applicant if they determine the job could pose a direct threat of serious harm to themselves or others and that reasonable accommodation would not reduce that risk. However, in general, disability is not a valid reason to refuse to hire an applicant.
Jobsites Must Accommodate Service Animals
In Pennsylvania, it is against the law for any organization or employer to stop a disabled employee from using their service animal. The law defines service animals as certified and trained animals used to assist physically disabled people with performing tasks that they normally cannot complete independently. For instance, a “seeing eye” dog may help guide a blind person as they walk through a city. Other everyday service animal tasks include providing stability to people that have trouble walking or grabbing objects for someone using a wheelchair. Just as with the employment laws, though, there are some exceptions. In cases where an employer can demonstrate a service animal in a workplace would cause health or safety problems, or they can provide an alternative accommodation, service animals can be lawfully disallowed. Still, these exceptions are rare, and service animals are typically permitted.
Workplaces Cannot Base Raises or Promotions on Disability
Unfortunately, the possibilities for discrimination against people with disabilities do not usually end after they get hired. It is wise to watch for prejudicial treatment from managers and employers if they know about (or suspect) a disability. Although it is illegal for an employer to deny workplace advancement opportunities like promotions, raises, benefits, additional training on the basis of an employee’s disability status, discrimination after hiring is common. Employers can not penalize employees for being unable to perform marginal or non-essential job functions. These are parts of a job that are not a core part of the job and can be assigned elsewhere. For instance, it may be essential for an accountant to produce expense reports, but it is certainly not essential for them to be able to staple papers together.
Retaliation is Illegal
Taking legal action against an employer can be massively intimidating. It is normal to fear retaliation such as hostility, harassment, or termination. However, in Pennsylvania, the law protects those employees who exercise their rights in the workplace. The law clearly states that it is illegal to retaliate against employees who take action to protect their rights. Retaliation can include demotion, unwanted transfer, refusal of employment, withholding raises, or termination.
Going and Plank Helps Fight Discrimination in the Workplace
Disability discrimination can affect income, safety, benefits, and professional advancement. Employees with disabilities have rights. Fighting against violations is also a right. If you believe you have experienced workplace disability discrimination, contact Going and Plank’s experienced Lancaster County disability attorney for a free consultation.
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