5 Ways Disability Discrimination Can Manifest in the Workplace

With the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the issue of disabilities in the workplace became more well-known and understood. Employers learned more about their obligations with respect to disabled workers, and individuals with disabilities learned about their rights in the workplace. Despite this law, individuals with disabilities unfortunately still face discrimination in the workplace, in part because the ways in which this discrimination manifests are varied and misunderstood.

Remember that under the ADA, employers cannot treat someone with a disability or a history of a disability less favorably than other employees without disabilities. Even someone who is not disabled cannot be treated less favorably because of their relationship with someone who is disabled. Further, the ADA requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities so as to allow them to work or continue to work.

1) Discrimination in hiring. A blatant example of this is if you have two similarly-situated applicants and choose the one without the disability on the sole reason that they have no disability. Similarly, not making applications available to disabled individuals or allowing a reasonable accommodation at a job interview is discrimination.

2) Harassment in the workplace. It is illegal to make derogatory or offensive remarks about a person’s disability, regardless of whether the individual who made the remark is an employee, supervisor, or even customer or client. If the harassment is severe enough to create a hostile work environment for the individual with disabilities or causes them to be demoted or fired, that is illegal discrimination.

3) Failure to reasonably accommodate. If an employee with disabilities requires some reasonable accommodation to be able to apply for a job or do a job that they have been hired for, the employer is required to give that reasonable accommodation as long as doing so is not expensive for the employer or would cause significant delay. Reasonable accommodations can include very minor things such as purchasing a special chair for someone or allowing them an additional restroom break.

4) Adverse actions based on disability. Taking an adverse personnel action against an employee solely because of their disability is the textbook definition of discrimination. This is true even if the official reason for the termination is non-discriminatory. Similarly, demoting someone because of their disability or limiting their access or ability to work in certain areas because of their disability when it is not reasonable is also discrimination. This is true whether the disability is documented or perceived on the part of the employer.

5) Establishing a work culture that is discriminatory. This is a much broader category because there are times when there are no specific instances of actual discrimination, but the entire workplace and method of management have the combined effect of making it difficult to impossible for the individual with disabilities to do their job effectively, or make any progress towards advancement. Examples include requiring that certain positions be filled by only individuals without disabilities when that requirement has no demonstrated need for this restriction; placing able-bodied employees as the forward facing employees and putting individuals with disabilities out of the public eye; etc.

Employers and employees should be well aware of disability discrimination in the workplace and how they may contribute to it and combat it. If you have questions about disability discrimination as an employer or an employee, the attorneys at Trembly Law firm are ready and able to answer any and all of them. Contact us today at (305) 431-5678.     

Trembly Law

In the South Florida legal community, Brett sits on the Board of the South Miami Kendall Bar Association, the Florida Bar 11th Circuit Grievance Committee, volunteers on the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Mentoring Program, the Dade-County Bar Associations Rainmakers Committee, and annually volunteers for Miami-Dade County’s Ethical Governance Day.
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