Understanding Disability Discrimination Laws in California

disability discrimination laws in california

State and Federal disability laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace. An employer is prohibited by law to discriminate against an employee or job applicants based on their disability. This includes hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other aspect of employment. You can read more about what a qualifying disability is here.

Federal and State Protections Against Discrimination

Employees with disabilities are protected under both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA); however, FEHA provides greater protection to employees. For instance, FEHA prohibits employers with 5 or more employees from discriminating against job applicants or employees on the basis of their disability. In contrast, the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The ADA and FEHA both prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who assert their rights.

An employer may be engaging in disability discrimination when it refuses to provide reasonable accommodations and/or fails to engage in a timely, good faith interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities who request reasonable accommodations unless doing so would result in undue hardship to the employer. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment to the way work must be performed in order to accommodate an employee with a disability. You can read more about reasonable accommodations here.

A non-exhaustive list of possible reasonable accommodations include:

  • Job modifications
  • Providing leave for medical care
  • Changing work schedules
  • Relocating the work area

The Interactive Process to Determine Reasonable Accomodations

To determine reasonable accommodations, the employers must engage in the “interactive process” During this process, it is essential that the employer and the employee communicate in good faith in an effort to establish a mutually beneficial reasonable accommodation. You can read more about the interactive process here.

If an employer denies a request for accommodation, an employee can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or with California’s Civil Rights Department.

At TONG LAW, we exclusively represent employees in disability discrimination claims.

When an employee with disabilities communicates the need for reasonable accommodations, the employer must engage in the interactive process to find a solution that is favorable for both parties. There are many types of disabilities, and not all disabilities are clearly visible; however, a disability need not be visible to qualify for protections under the law. You can learn more about disabilities that qualify for protection here.

The interactive process refers to the process by which an employee who has a disability or impairment requests accommodations from their employer. After a request, an employer is then required to engage in an interactive dialogue with the employee to discuss potential reasonable accommodations. If an agreement is reached, the employer must implement the agreed-upon accommodations.

As part of the interactive process, each of the parties shares information about the nature of the disability and the limitations that may affect the employee’s ability to perform his or her job duties. Employers must consider any reasonable accommodations that may be necessary to allow the employee to perform his or her job duties. You can learn more about reasonable accommodations here.

Generally, interactive processes are required after the employer is aware that the employee may have some limitations resulting from a condition that could be classified as a disability. Accommodations can be made to allow the employee to perform their duties despite the disability, and interactive processes are a way for employers to discuss potential solutions with the employee. This helps to ensure that the employee can perform their job effectively and that their rights are protected.

Employers must be aware of any potential discrimination laws that may be violated if they fail to engage in the interactive process. It is a legal requirement that communications during the interactive process be made in good faith. Failing to engage in good faith communications during the interactive process is also disability discrimination. You can learn more about disability discrimination here.

At TONG LAW, we represent employees in interactive process disputes.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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