The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that one in three working Americans will become disabled before reaching retirement age. In some cases, disability results from a workplace injury or occupational illness; in others, it results from an accident outside of work or another illness or medical condition.
Disability status is one category protected under U.S. discrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). If a disability results from an on the job injury, workers’ compensation laws may also apply. However, the way these laws are structured gives employers some flexibility in reassigning workers who become disabled, regardless of how the disability occurs. An experienced discrimination matter lawyer can help you sort out the complexities of this area of law.
Here are some points to consider when facing a potential discrimination case in which a worker is demoted after becoming disabled:
- Employers are only obligated to make “reasonable accommodations” for disability.
The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits outright discrimination based on disability. For instance, an employer may not make a blanket refusal to hire anyone who is disabled simply because they are disabled.
However, employers are also not required to go to any lengths necessary to accommodate a worker’s disabilities within the context of a job. Instead, they are required to provide only those accommodations that are “reasonable,” given the job’s requirements, equipment, facilities, and other factors. If a worker’s disability makes the worker unable to do a job, even with reasonable accommodations, an employer may offer other work – even if that “other work” represents a demotion.
- Employers may demote disabled employees based on non-disability-related factors.
While employers may not demote a disabled employee simply because they have a disability, they may demote any employee based on that employee’s job performance. Factors like unexcused absences, faltering performance, or significant mistakes on the job may all lead to a demotion. A court may not interpret a demotion based on these factors as discrimination, even if the reason you were absent or lagged behind was your need to get your disability diagnosed or treated.
The best step is to consult an attorney with experience representing disabled workers who are facing potential discrimination claims. Your lawyer can help you understand how the law applies to your specific situation, investigate the circumstances surrounding your demotion, and build a case to protect your legal rights.
- Your employer may not be covered by the ADA.
The Americans With Disabilities Act applies to any employer who has 15 or more employees. So if you work for a small business, your employer may not be required to meet the ADA’s requirements for reasonable accommodations. It is wise, however, to check your state, city, and county laws as well: some localities have disability discrimination rules that apply to smaller employers.
- Does your employer “regard you as” disabled?
The ADA protects people against discrimination if they have an impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities. If you don’t have such an impairment but your employer thinks you do and treats you as if you do, however, your situation may also be subject to the rules of the ADA. For instance, if you lose weight due to exercise and diet changes, but your employer assumes you have cancer, antidiscrimination laws may apply to your situation. How your employer views you may, in turn, affect whether or not you have a discrimination case for demotion.
Contact Seelig Law today for advice and a free if you feel that you have been discriminated against for your disability or a perceived disability.