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  • Vincent Tong

What Qualifies as a Disability in the Workplace?

Disability is defined broadly in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more important life activities.” With that being said, The California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s (FEHA) definition is more expansive and offers additional protections. As defined by the FEHA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life function, such as working.

While employees with disabilities are protected by federal and state laws from discrimination on the basis of their disability, it is important to note that not everyone with a medical condition is protected from disability discrimination. In order for a person’s disability to qualify for protection they must have:

· A physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity.

· A record of having a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity.

· Been regarded as having a physical or mental impairment and being subject to adverse action as a result of the impairment.

It is not necessary for a medical condition to be long-term, permanent, or severe in order to be substantially limiting. This means that even if a condition is mild or only temporarily disabling, it can still qualify as a disability and the person may be protected from disability discrimination. You can read more about disability discrimination here.

Some of the most common physical and mental impairments typically covered under the FEHA include:

· AIDS, HIV and its symptoms

· Asthma

· Blindness or other visual impairments

· Cancer

· Cerebral palsy

· Diabetes

· Epilepsy

· Heart Disease

· Migraine Headaches

· Muscular dystrophy

· Paralysis

· Complications from Pregnancy

· Thyroid gland disorders

· Loss of body parts

· Stress

· Anxiety

· Arthritis


· Depression

· Frequent urination


This is not an exhaustive list of qualifying disabilities, and it is important for employees to be aware of how their particular disability affects them in the performance of their job duties. Once an employer becomes aware of potential limitations, it is essential that they engage in the interactive process to determine how the disability may be accommodated. You can read more about the interactive process here.

A reasonable accommodation is a way that an employer may accommodate an individual with disabilities. These are adjustments to the way a job must be performed, and they allow an employee with disabilities to equitably participate in the employment process. You can read more about reasonable accommodations here.

At TONG LAW, we have experience enforcing the rights of employees with disabilities.

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