Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

How the Law Protects Your Rights

Laws protect workers from disability discrimination
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Do you have a disability? Are you worried that it will keep you from pursuing the career you chose, getting hired, or earning a promotion? 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. Thanks to United States laws that protect you from disability discrimination in the workplace no one can keep you from having the career you want.

Let's take a look at some of the laws that protect you. You will find out if and how you are covered by these laws, whether your employer is subject to them and what to do if you need to file a complaint.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Who Does It Protect? 

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? 

A covered employer cannot take an individual's disability into account when making decisions regarding hiring, firing, promotion, pay or benefits. In addition, employers must make reasonable accommodations that allow someone to do her job or apply for a job. A job candidate cannot be asked to answer health-related questions or take a physical examination until the employer has offered him or her the job. Finally, an employer cannot harass a worker or applicant, for example by making offensive remarks about his disability and therefore creating a hostile work environment.

What Can You Do If You Suspect Disability Discrimination in the Workplace?

You can file a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). See How to File a Claim.

The Rehabilitation Act

Who Is Protected? 

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 a federally-funded agency.

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 Should a Worker or Applicant Do If He or She Suspects Discrimination? 

The steps an individual should take depends on whether his or her claim is against a Federal agency, a contractor or subcontractor, or a federally-funded agency. You can file a complaint against a Federal agency with that agency's equal employment opportunity (EEO) office. The US 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

In addition to the federal laws that protect individuals from disability discrimination in the workplace, there are also state laws that do the same. See a state-by-state guide to employment discrimination laws on Nolo.org.