Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace
Even without reasonable accommodations, jobs are hard work. There are long commutes, difficult bosses, mind numbing assignments and back breaking labor. For most of us, this is just par for the course. But for workers dealing with a temporary or permanent disability, the everyday challenges of the workplace are magnified. Without the protection afforded by California law (i.e. reasonable accommodations), many disabled workers would be subject to insurmountable hardships and would be fired.
Luckily, good laws exist to provide disabled workers additional rights in the workplace, and good law firms like us are out there fighting every day to make sure companies don’t get away with mistreating these valuable employees.
When it comes to disabilities and reasonable accommodations, workers have lots of questions. What constitutes disability discrimination? Is my employer required to provide accommodations? What does it mean to request a “reasonable accommodation”? What is the interactive process?
The following video and webpage answers all of these questions exhaustively.
If you’re curious about the answers to any of these questions, continue reading to learn a little more about this area of employment law. If you suspect your employer has discriminated against you because of your disability, wrongfully terminated you, or refused to offer reasonable accommodation, contact our office to schedule a consultation.
California Disability Law in General
Both federal and state laws provide protection to disabled employees. The state law California attorneys frequently use when working on behalf of disabled clients is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The Act is contained in the Government Code.
Section 12940 of the Code states that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or applicant on the basis of disability in terms, conditions or privileges of employment. While the law doesn’t provide disabled workers with unlimited protection, generally speaking, employers are required to offer reasonable accommodations whenever possible.
Under FEHA, it is also unlawful for an employer to:
“fail to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with the employee or applicant to determine effective reasonable accommodations, if any, in response to a request for reasonable accommodation by an employee or applicant with a known physical or mental disability or known medical condition.”
What qualifies as a disability?
The section of law detailing what constitutes a disability is complex, and in some cases opened to interpretation. It’s an issue that many workers have to discuss with both their personal doctor and an attorney. Generally speaking, disability law recognizes both mental and physical conditions. Disabilities can include mental conditions such as depression or panic disorder, as well injuries that occur at work or off work, in addition to genetic disorders. The common factor in determining whether an illness, injury or genetic condition rises to the level of disability is whether the affliction “limits a major life activity.”
For instance, a court reporter dealing with arthritis might experience severe pain when typing. The same might be said of a delivery driver with a herniated disk.
Some conditions are temporary, while others are chronic. Potentially disabling conditions can include the following:
- Major depression
- Heart disease
- Back injury
- Wrist injury
- Chronic migraines
- Bipolar disorder
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Hearing loss
- Other conditions
Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that just because an employee is suffering from physical or emotional pain, doesn’t mean they don’t want to work. In some instances, the problem can be alleviated with a little extra help from the employer. This is where the question of reasonable accommodation arises.
Reasonable Accommodations and the Interactive Process
California law requires employers to engage in an interactive process when a request for reasonable accommodation is made. An employer is also required to initiate the interactive process when it is apparent an employee requires a reasonable accommodation.
The interactive process begins with a discussion about an employee’s disability, and the accommodations that employee might require in order to do his or her job. If you are considering asking for accommodation, it might be best to start by referring to your employee handbook. Companies will often have procedures in place for starting the interactive process. It’s also recommended that a doctor be consulted so that an employee can document his or her disability. Consulting a doctor also help the employee to have a solid understanding of his or her condition, as well as the accommodations that might be most effective.
Reasonable accommodations can come in many different forms and will depend on the nature of the disability, whether arthritis, carpal tunnel, hearing loss, depression, back injury, or another condition. Accommodations might include:
- Ergonomic chair
- Ergonomic keyboard
- Limits on the amount of time spent sitting or standing
- Extra time to complete assignments
- Hearing assist phones
- Additional rest periods
- Transfer to a different department
- Transfer to an evening or morning shift
- Voice assist software
If you are dealing with a disability, and your employer is refusing to consider your request for reasonable accommodation, it might be time to have an attorney review your case, and let you know if legal action is warranted.
What Damages Can I Recover in a Reasonable Accommodation Case?
This is a question that is impossible to answer with specificity. There are a lot of elements to consider when an employee sues a company, and a lot that can happen between the time you file a claim, and a settlement is reached. However, there are different types of damages a person may be able to recover in a disability discrimination case, which can be discussed in general terms.
Lost Wages– If an employer refuses to accommodate a disabled worker, and the worker is terminated, lost wages might be a consideration. Lost wages are calculated by considering the fired employee’s annual salary or hourly wages. For example, if a disabled employee is making $75,000 annually at the time of termination, and is unable to find work for three years, that employee could potentially recover $225,000 in lost wages.
Pain and Suffering– The amount of damages an employee recovers as the result of pain and suffering are difficult to calculate. A jury or judge will typically consider the effect of discrimination on an employee’s mental and physical health. The pain and suffering a person experiences can consist of anxiety, insomnia, depression, and other issues. California law tries to calculate for both past and future suffering.
Punitive Damages– These are generally rare. They are designed to punish companies that have acted unlawfully and dissuade them and other companies from doing something similar in the future. In order for an employee to recover these types of damages, it is necessary to show that the employer acted with fraud, malice or oppression. While these types of damages are rare, they often result in multi-million-dollar awards.
Attorney’s Fees– In discrimination/harassment cases, it is sometimes possible to recover attorney’s fees (based on the amount of time your attorney spends working on the case.)
Contact the Bohm Law Group
If you are dealing with a physical or mental condition that is limiting a major life activity, (your work, or work performance), and your employer is refusing to engage in the interactive process, or grant reasonable accommodations, contact our office to schedule a consultation. It might be worth the time and effort to discuss your case with one of our attorneys if we determine you have a claim worth pursuing.
We have helped employees from a wide range of careers dealing with a large list of workplace injustices (wrongful termination, sexual harassment, whistleblower, retaliation, and more). If you have questions about disability discrimination, reasonable accommodations, or some other area of employment law, contact Lawrance Bohm to find out how we can help.