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Discrimination & Harassment

Disability Discrimination

The law generally prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees because of a disability. In addition, the law requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations that enable them to work.

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Disability Discrimination Details

Federal law prohibits disability discrimination in employment. Many states, including Minnesota, also prohibit disability discrimination in employment. In particular, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) prohibit employers from discriminating against otherwise qualified employees on the basis of disability.

Disability discrimination in employment can occur in many aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits, and other conditions of employment. It is also illegal to harass a person because of his or her disability. Although off-hand remarks or teasing may not be enough to constitute harassment based on age, the harassment may become illegal when it occurs so regularly, or is so severe, that it results in a hostile or intolerable work environment. These laws also protect people from discrimination in employment based on their association or relationship with a person who has a disability.

Who is protected from disability discrimination?

You may be protected under the ADA and MHRA if you have an actual disability, a record of disability, or your employer regards you as disabled. An actual disability involves a physical or mental impairment that significantly affects a person in one or more major life activities (e.g., walking, talking, seeing, hearing, reading, manual tasks, thinking, or learning). Since the ADA was amended in 2008, major life activities can also include major bodily functions (e.g., involving the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive system, circulatory system, reproductive system, and so on). Thus, even impairments that are episodic, invisible, or in remission, might qualify as disabilities under the law. Finally, the law also protects people are not disabled, but who have an association or relationship with someone who is.

What are reasonable accommodations and when are they required?

"Reasonable accommodations" involve actions an employer can take to make it possible for a person with a disability to do their job, the job for which they applied, or potentially another job. If a person needs an accommodation to become or stay employed, the law requires an employer to provide it so long as doing so will not be an undue burden on the employer. The purpose of the employer’s duty to provide reasonable accommodations is to ensure that people with disabilities are able to find, keep, and enjoy the privileges and benefits of employment.

Reasonable accommodations can include, for example, physical changes to the workplace, job restructuring, modified work schedules, reassignments to available positions, and leaves of absence. Determination of what accommodations might be available, whether they are reasonable, and whether they create an undue burden on the employer will depend on the facts of each case. Regardless, employees and employers should work together by engaging in an interactive process to determine the answers to these questions. The law may not look kindly on the failure to make a good-faith effort during this process.

What does the law allow an employer to ask about an employee’s or job applicant’s disability?

In general, an employer may only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical documentation to support the employee’s request for an accommodation, or if the employer is concerned the employee may not be able to perform their job safely or successfully due to a medical condition. During the hiring process, an employer may not ask a job applicant whether she is disabled or about the nature or severity of her disability. Nor may the employer require her to provide this information. Similarly, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information and restricts employers from soliciting information about a job applicant’s or employee’s of genetic services, genetic tests, or family medical history.

Examples of Potential Disability Discrimination

  • Your doctor diagnosed you with a medical problem but says you can still perform your job with a little help. Your employer makes little (if any) effort to see if it can provide such help and decides to fire you.
  • You used to have a mental or physical impairment, and you are denied a job, denied a promotion, reassigned, or fired because of a record of this prior disability.
  • You are at a job interview, and a potential employer asks you questions related to your actual or perceived physical or mental impairments.
  • A potential employer offers you a job, requires you to submit to a medical examination without justification, and then denies you the job based on the examination.
  • An employer requires you reimburse it for the costs providing a medical examination or reasonable accommodation.

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