Disability Discrimination

Laws That Protect Workers

Laws protect workers from disability discrimination
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U.S. laws, and in many cases state laws as well, prohibit disability discrimination. Among the ways these laws protect us is by preventing most employers from making decisions based on workers' or job applicants' physical or mental impairments.

If you have a disability, it should not keep you from pursuing your chosen career, as long as an employer can make reasonable accommodations that will allow you to perform the relevant job duties. Whether you use a wheelchair to get around, are hearing or visually impaired, or have an invisible disability such as a learning disability or a mental illness, you have the same rights to a successful career as every other person.

Federal laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, and disability laws in many states give individuals with disabilities the same rights as anyone else to pursue a career.

This article explains the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Find out if these laws cover you and if your employer is required to adhere to them. Finally, learn how to file a disability discrimination complaint.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Who Does It Protect? 

The ADA protects any employee or job applicant with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

What Types of Employers Are Subject to This Law? 

Private businesses, educational institutions, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations must follow the provisions of this law if they employ at least 15 workers.

How Are Workers and Job Applicants Protected? 

An employer that is subject to the ADA cannot take an individual's disability into account when making decisions regarding hiring, firing, promotion, pay, or benefits. Additionally, employers must make reasonable accommodations that allow someone to perform his or her job or apply for a position.

The employer cannot ask a job candidate health-related questions or require him or her to take a physical examination until that employer has offered the individual the job. Finally, an employer can't create a hostile work environment by harassing a worker or applicant. This would including making offensive remarks or mocking the person about his or her disability.

What To Do If You Encounter Disability Discrimination in the Workplace: File a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). See: How to File a Claim.

The Rehabilitation Act

Who Is Protected? 

The Rehabilitation Act protects anyone with a physical or mental impairment who works for or is applying for a job with the federal government, a federal government contractor or subcontractor (with over $10,000 in contracts or subcontracts), or programs and activities that receive federal funding.

How Does the Law Protect Employees and Job Applicants?

Not only does this law prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and applicants when making hiring, promotion, compensation, and firing decisions, it requires them to make an effort to employ and advance people with disabilities.

What To Do If You Suspect Discrimination Under the Rehabilitation Act: File a complaint against a federal agency with its equal employment opportunity (EEO) office. When the complaint is against a federally-funded program or activity, make your claim with the EEO office of the federal agency that provides the funding. The U.S. Department of Labor: Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) handles complaints against federal contractors and subcontractors. See how to file a complaint with the OFCCP.

State Disability Laws

Some states also have laws that prohibit disability discrimination in the workplace. Their provisions may be more stringent than the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, but they cannot be less so. It is imperative to know what the law is in your state.

While your employer's or potential employer's actions may not be considered discrimination under federal law, your state law may classify it as such. Make sure you investigate your state's employment discrimination laws.

Sources and Resources for More Information