Reasonable Accommodations Are Your Right
Living with a disability is hard enough. The last thing you need is an employer who refuses to reasonably accommodate your disability at work. This makes it harder to do your job. Luckily, if you have a disability, United States and Pennsylvania law requires your employer to provide you with reasonable accommodation. If you believe you are being denied a reasonable accommodation at work, or that you are being discriminated against because of your disability, CONTACT MY FIRM, Mansour Law, LLC, online or call 610-936-6863 for a FREE CONSULTATION. My team is ready to help!
What Counts As Disability Discrimination At Work?
Disability discrimination at work occurs when your employer discriminates against you because of your disability. Your employer’s duty not to discriminate against you because of your disability applies to all of the following:
- Job application procedures
- Hiring, promotion, or discharge
- Pay and benefits
- Job training
- Other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment
In addition, your employer is required to provide you with a reasonable accommodation if it would help you perform your essential job duties. Your employer’s failure to accommodate you is a form of illegal discrimination. However, this is true only if the accommodation you seek is “reasonable” and does not impose an “undue hardship” on your employer.
It is also illegal for your current or prospective employer to limit, segregate, or classify you in ways that negatively impact your employment status or opportunities. For example, your employer cannot place you in a position without promotion potential simply because you have a disability. Nor can your current or prospective employer discriminate against you simply because of your relationship or association with a disabled person. In fact, even if you don’t have a disability, it is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because it perceives you as disabled.
Disability discrimination at work is a complex area of law. Even worse, many employers are unaware of their legal duties toward disabled employees. If you believe you are being discriminated against at work because of your disability, you should speak to an experienced disability discrimination lawyer immediately.
What Laws Prohibit Workplace Disability Discrimination?
In Pennsylvania, disability discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by at least two laws: (1) a federal law, called the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”); and (2) a state law, called the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) enforces the ADA. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) enforces the PHRA. Some cities and towns, like Philadelphia and Allentown, have their own laws prohibiting disability discrimination at work.
All of these laws prohibit the same kind of harassing conduct in the workplace. The biggest difference between the laws is to which employers they apply. For example:
- The ADA applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least 15 employees.
- The PHRA applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least 4 employees.
- Local laws usually apply to employers with any number of employees within the town or city.
Chances are, your employer is covered by one of these laws. As a result, an experienced Pennsylvania disability discrimination lawyer will be able to determine which laws apply to your case.
What Is A ‘Disability’ Under The Law?
A “disability” is defined by the law in three ways:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or major bodily functions
- A record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or major bodily functions
- Being regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or major bodily functions
“Major life activities” can include any of the following, plus more:
- Caring for oneself
- Performing manual tasks
- Seeing, hearing, or speaking
- Breathing, eating, or sleeping
- Sitting, standing, walking, or bending
- Learning, thinking, or concentrating
“Major bodily functions” can include any of the following, plus more:
- Immune system functions
- Cell growth
- Digestive, bowel, and bladder functions
- Neurological and brain functions
- Respiratory and circulatory functions
- Endocrine and reproductive functions
Surprisingly, a physical or mental condition need not constantly impair a major life activity to be a disability under the law. Sometimes, even periodic or intermittent conditions (e.g., epilepsy or depression) can be considered disabilities. However, this is true only if a major life activity is substantially impaired when the condition is active.
What Is A ‘Reasonable Accomodation’ Under The Law?
An accommodation is any change in the way things are ordinarily done that enables a disabled employee to perform his or her job. In order for an accommodation to be “reasonable,” it must be “feasible” or “plausible.” There are many possible reasonable accommodations that an employer may have to provide. These include, but are not limited to:
- Making existing facilities accessible
- Job restructuring
- Part-time or modified work schedules
- Additional breaks
- Temporary or intermittent leave
- Acquiring or modifying equipment
- Changing tests, training materials, or policies
- Providing qualified readers or interpreters
- Reassignment to a vacant position
However, there are several modifications or adjustments that are not considered reasonable accommodations. For example, your employer does not have to eliminate one of your essential job functions. Nor is your employer required to lower company-wide production standards. Likewise, your employer does not have to provide items that help you perform personal, off-duty activities. For example, your employer is not required to provide you with a prosthetic limb, a wheelchair, eyeglasses, or hearing aids if they are also needed off the job.
Whether the accommodation you need is a reasonable one can be a difficult and confusing issue. If you find yourself needing a reasonable accommodation at work, it is always best to consult with a Pennsylvania disability discrimination attorney first.
How Do You Request A Reasonable Accommodation At Work?
To request a workplace accommodation, you must let your employer know that you need a change or adjustment at work because of your medical condition. Importantly, you do not need to mention any laws or specifically ask for a “reasonable accommodation.” Instead, you can use “plain English.” According to the EEOC, the following are examples of requests for a reasonable accommodation:
You tell your supervisor, “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
You tell your supervisor, “I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
You inform your supervisor that your wheelchair cannot fit under your desk. This is a request for reasonable accommodation.
Importantly, your request for an accommodation does not need to be in writing to be valid. Even if you request an accommodation verbally, your employer is required to timely respond to your request. Regardless of how you request your accommodation, make sure that you relate your request to your medical condition. If you don’t, your employer may not be obligated to respond.
In terms of timing, you can request a reasonable accommodation at any point during the application process or your employment. Your employer cannot deny you an accommodation simply because you did not ask for one earlier.
What Must An Employer Do After A Reasonable Accommodation Is Requested?
Once you request a reasonable accommodation, your employer must promptly engage in the “interactive process.” This is an informal process where you and your employer explore possible effective accommodations. It is illegal for your employer to ignore your clear request for a reasonable accommodation. During this process, your employer may ask you about your medical condition and how it affects your work performance. Your employer may also ask you to propose some accommodations that might help you do your job. You should take advantage of this opportunity to discuss potential accommodations with your employer. Indeed, the “interactive process” cannot work without your interaction.
Critically, your failure to engage in this process may later prevent you from enforcing your legal rights.
If your employer fails to engage in the interactive process, and ignores your request for an accommodation, you should contact us right away.
Does The Law Protect You From Workplace Harassment Due To Your Disability?
Yes. Both the ADA and the PHRA prohibit workplace harassment based on disability. In order to win such a claim, you need to prove the following:
- You have a disability and suffered harassment because of your disability
- The harassment was severe or pervasive
- The harassment negatively affected you
- The harassment would have negatively affected a reasonable person in your position
- If the harasser was a co-worker, your employer knew or should have known about the harassment and did nothing to prevent or remedy it.
If the harasser was your supervisor and the harassment culminated in you being fired or demoted, your employer is automatically liable. If, however, your supervisor’s harassment did not result in you being fired or demoted, your employer will win if it can prove:
- It had procedures in place for preventing and remedying harassment or discrimination
- You unreasonably failed to use those procedures
- Importantly, as discussed more below, the type of damages you can receive for workplace harassment under these laws is different.
Can An Employer Require Medical Documentation Before Granting A Reasonable Accommodation?
Yes, but only when your disability or need for an accommodation is not obvious. In such a case, your employer may ask for documentation that proves your disability and/or your limitations. This usually comes in the form of a letter from your treating doctor specifying your condition and how it interferes with your work. Furthermore, your doctor may, but is not required to, suggest a reasonable accommodation.
- Importantly, your employer may only ask for documentation that is needed to establish your disability or your need for a reasonable accommodation. Therefore, your employer cannot ask for documentation that is unrelated to determining your disability and need for an accommodation. This means that, in most cases, your employer cannot request your complete medical records. That’s because they are likely to contain unrelated information.
- However, there are two instances when your employer cannot legally ask for documentation. These are: (1) when both your disability and need for reasonable accommodation are obvious, and (2) when you have already provided your employer with sufficient information to show that you have a disability and need a reasonable accommodation.
Is An Employer Required To Provide You Any Reasonable Accommodation You Want?
As part of the interactive process, you and your employer will discuss various potential reasonable accommodations. Your employer may provide you with any reasonable accommodation as long as it is effective in helping you do your job. If one or more of the proposed accommodations costs more or is more burdensome than the others, your employer may choose the less expensive or burdensome accommodation as long as it is effective. Similarly, when there are two or more effective accommodations, the employer may choose the one that is easier to provide. Generally, your employer has discretion in choosing among effective accommodations.
What Is An ‘Undue Hardship’ Under The Law?
The ADA and the PHRA both permit your employer to refuse your accommodation request if the accommodation requested would impose an “undue hardship” on your employer. “Undue hardship” means significant difficulty or expense. Whether a specific accommodation imposes an undue hardship will depend on several factors, including:
- The nature and cost of the accommodation
- The financial and other resources of your employer
- The number of employees at your work location
- The effect of the accommodation on your employer’s operations
Importantly, undue hardship means not just expensive, but also unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive. An accommodation that fundamentally alters the nature or operation of the business would also be considered an undue hardship. Your employer must assess on a case-by-case basis whether a particular accommodation would cause undue hardship.
If your employer is claiming that accommodating your disability would cause an undue hardship, you should contact us right away to discuss your legal options.
How Do You File A Disability Discrimination Lawsuit?
The ADA and the PHRA both require disability discrimination victims to file a complaint with the EEOC or the PHRC before going to court. This is called “exhausting administrative remedies.” If you file a disability discrimination complaint with the EEOC in Pennsylvania, it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC. While you are not required to have an attorney in order to file the complaint, hiring an experienced disability discrimination lawyer is crucial to your success. Even at this preliminary stage, you must navigate many complex rules and procedures. Therefore, failure to do so can harm your case.
What Is The Deadline To File A Disability Discrimination Complaint With The EEOC Or PHRC?
To protect your disability discrimination claims under the ADA and the PHRA, you must file a complaint with the EEOC or the PHRC within 180 days of your employer’s negative action (which includes your employer’s failure to offer you a reasonable accommodation). If you file your disability discrimination claim with the EEOC, it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC.
If you miss the 180-day deadline, you can still protect your federal disability discrimination claim under the ADA. To do so, you must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of your employer’s negative action. However, you will lose your PHRA claim.
If you do not file your complaints by these deadlines, you may lose your claims forever. That’s why it is important to have an attorney handle the process for you. Speak with an experienced disability discrimination lawyer at Mansour Law, LLC, to ensure you meet all deadlines and that your complaint is complete.
How Long After Filing An EEOC Or PHRC Complaint Can You Sue Your Employer In Court?
Under the ADA, you must give the EEOC at least 180 days to investigate your complaint. If the EEOC has not completed its investigation within that time, you may request a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This letter from the EEOC gives you the right to file a disability discrimination lawsuit against your employer in court. Once you receive this letter, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days. For additional information, the EEOC maintains a public portal where you can learn more about filing a disability discrimination complaint.
Under the PHRA, you must give the PHRC at least 1 year to investigate your disability discrimination complaint. If the PHRC has not resolved your case within 1 year, you may automatically file your PHRA disability discrimination claim in court. Unlike with the EEOC, you do not need to receive a Notice of Right to Sue before going to court. The PHRC also maintains a helpful guide for filing a disability discrimination complaint.
As you can see, filing a disability discrimination complaint with the EEOC or PHRC can be a confusing process. To ensure you have the strongest case possible, speak with an experienced Pennsylvania disability discrimination lawyer.
What Kind Of Damages Can A Disability Discrimination Lawyer Obtain For You?
Your experienced disability discrimination lawyer will work to recover compensation for your claim. This compensation is called “damages.” Importantly, your lawyer will seek three different types of damages for your disability discrimination at work:
- Economic damages: Among other things, this can include compensation for past and future lost wages.
- Compensatory damages: Generally, this includes emotional distress, physical pain, and inconvenience.
- Punitive damages: These are meant to punish your employer for intentional misconduct.
The ADA and the PHRA also place limits on the kinds and amounts of damages you can recover if you are discriminated at work because of your disability. Under the ADA, for example, there is no cap on economic damages. However, the combined amount of compensatory and punitive damages you can recover is limited based on the size of your employer:
- 15-100 employees: $50,000 combined limit
- 101-200 employees: $100,000 combined limit
- 201-500 employees: $200,000 combined limit
- More than 500 employees: $300,000 combined limit
Like the ADA, the PHRA does not limit economic damages. Unlike the ADA, however, the PHRA does not limit your compensatory damages and does not allow punitive damages. It can be confusing to determine the types and amounts of damages you can recover. As a result, it is important to speak with an experienced and trusted disability discrimination lawyer.
How Long Will It Take To Resolve A Disability Discrimination Case?
Generally, disability discrimination cases resolve within two years. Some cases may resolve in as little as a few months while others may take several years. Your specific case, however, may take more or less time. This will depend on several factors, including:
- The nature and complexity of your case
- How many people you sue
- The number of witnesses involved
- Whether your employer has insurance to cover your disability discrimination claim
- Which types and amounts of damages you are claiming
- The court where you file your lawsuit
- Your employer’s relative willingness to settle your case
If you handle your disability discrimination case on your own, it can take a lot longer to resolve. This can cause a lot of uncertainty, stress, and wasted time. In order to make sure that your case is moving towards resolution, it is necessary to have an experienced Pennsylvania disability discrimination lawyer by your side.