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What laws protect me from disability discrimination?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) recently held its 28th anniversary. However, despite the great progress that has been made in reducing discrimination against those who have disabilities, disability discrimination still occurs far too often. This is especially true in the workplace context. Incidents of workplace disability discrimination are very common, especially where an employer fails to take the steps needed to help a disabled employee adjust to a normal work routine. Fortunately, several different laws, including the ADA, protect the rights of disabled employees in the workplace.

Explaining the Americans with Disabilities Act

Under the ADA, a person is considered disabled if he or she actually has a physical or mental disability, has a past record of such a disability, or is regarded by others as having a disability even if no real disability exists. Both temporary and permanent forms of disabilities are covered under the ADA.

Generally speaking, the ADA prevents discrimination against disabled employees or job applicants so long as the disability does not make it impossible for the employee to do the job. Any person who actually cannot work is not covered by the ADA. That said, the ADA provides anti-discrimination protections to all disabled individuals who are able to work and those disabled individuals who can work if their employers took reasonable steps to help accommodate the disability. Most violations of the ADA are due to an employer’s failure to timely provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.

The Family Medical Leave Act

Another federal law that helps protect disabled individuals is the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The FMLA requires provide unpaid sick leave time to all qualifying employees. The basic qualification under the FMLA is employment for at least the past six months. FMLA unpaid sick leave can be used either to help take care of a family member with a serious medical condition, or it can be used by an employee for his or her own serious medical needs. The FMLA’s self-care provisions are particularly important for disabled individuals because they provide time off for medical appointments and needed sick days. In addition to providing sick leave, the FMLA also makes it illegal for employers to fire or demote employees for taking FMLA sick leave time.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

One final federal law that protects disabled employees from workplace discrimination is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”). While not very well known or understood, GINA prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of an individual’s genetic disabilities. Like the ADA, GINA seeks to protect individuals with genetic disabilities from being discriminated against by employers who lack a thorough understanding of a particular employee’s genetic disorder.

State Anti-Discrimination Laws

If a federal law does not apply to remedy disability discrimination in a specific situation, a state law may apply. Often, states enact their own employment anti-discrimination laws in order to supplement federal law or fill in gaps that federal law does not reach. If you are uncertain about the extent of your protections against disability discrimination under the law, you should contact an experienced disability discrimination attorney for more information.

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