Disability Discrimination

Employers of disabled employees must abide by California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. These laws help protect employees from unfair behavior at work. Unlawful employment practices occur frequently and people suffer from this misconduct every day.
Our Disability Discrimination Attorneys and our ADA Lawyers for Disabled Employees are here to ensure employees receive the full protection of FEHA and ADA. If you have found yourself in an unfortunate situation, please reach out to us for your Case Evaluation.

What is disability discrimination?

Disability discrimination occurs when you are targeted or treated differently because of your disability. Discrimination may also occur when an employer perceives or believes you have a disability even though you are not disabled. California law prohibits employers with five or more employees from discriminating on the basis of a disability or medical condition.

Types of disability discrimination

Refuse to hire a person because he/she is disabled
Discipline an employee for conduct resulting from a disability
Terminate an employee because he/she is disabled
Pay an employee less because he/she is disabled
Fail to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability
Employer policy that has a worse impact on disabled employees compared to non-disabled employees
Denying other terms, conditions or privileges of employment

What is disability harassment?

Disability Harassment occurs when severe or pervasive offensive behavior of managers, supervisors, or co-workers alter the work environment for an employee. Disability harassment can be verbal or non-verbal treatment due to a disability or need for medical leave of absence.

What is a disability?

The definition of “disability” under the FEHA includes both physical and mental disabilities, as well as medical conditions.

Physical Disability

The definition of physical disability encompasses any physiological disease, disorder, condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss, having a record of such impairment, or being regarding as having or having had such an impairment, that:

Affects one or more body systems (neurological, immunological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic, lymphatic, skin and endocrine); and
Limits a major life activity without regard to mitigating measures, such as medications, assistive devices, prosthetics or reasonable accommodations; or
Any other health impairment that requires special education or related services.

Mental Disability

The definition of mental disability includes any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities that limit a major life activity or having a history of such impairment or being regarded as having or having had such an impairment. Mental disability includes any mental or psychological disorder or condition that requires special education or related services. Mental disability includes Anxiety and Depression.

Medical Condition

The FEHA also prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of medical condition. “Medical condition” means:

Any health impairment related to or associated with a diagnosis of cancer or a record or history of cancer; or
Genetic characteristics

What Impairments are NOT Protected under California Law?

An employee does not have a qualified disability if their condition is mild and temporary. Conditions that are mild, as determined on a case-by-case basis, include:

  • The common cold
  • The seasonal or common influenza
  • Minor cuts, sprains, muscle aches, soreness, bruises or abrasions
  • Non-migraine headaches
  • Minor and non-chronic gastrointestinal disorders

The following behavioral conditions are excluded:

  • Compulsive gambling
  • Kleptomania
  • Pyromania
  • Substance abuse disorders resulting from the current unlawful use of controlled substances or other drugs
  • Sexual behavior disorders, such as pedophilia, exhibitionism, and voyeurism

What is a reasonable accommodation?

Under the FEHA, ‘reasonable accommodation’ means a modification or adjustment to the workplace that enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job held or desired. Reasonable accommodations permit the employee to continue working and performing the Essential Functions of their job rather than forcing an employee on medical leave. Other types of Reasonable Accommodations include, but are not limited to, temporary light duty assignments, lactation breaks, or medical leave to allow the employee to recover sufficiently to return to work – this includes, for example, the need for additional medical leave when leave under CFRA or FMLA has been exhausted. For more information related to Family Medical Leave, click here.

What is the interactive process?

The FEHA requires both Employees and Employers to engage in an Interactive Process when an Employee has a disability that requires potential accommodation. The Interactive Process helps determine whether an Employee with a disability can continue working with or without accommodations and what accommodations are available. An employer who fails to engage in this process in a timely and good faith manner is in violation of the law.

Intersection between FEHA and worker’s compensation injuries

Workplace injuries often result in Physical Disabilities requiring accommodations. The FEHA applies to employees and workers, regardless of whether the disability is a result of workplace accident. For example, an employee who accidentally injures a hand on a conveyor belt at work may file for workers compensation…. But FEHA still applies to this employee because they now possess a physical disability and are entitled to reasonable accommodations and the interactive process. Workers Compensation does NOT prohibit FEHA from protecting this employee from medical leave, the interactive process, or reasonable accommodation. The protections of the FEHA apply to employees who become disabled as a result of a workplace injury.


When we are contacted about a disability discrimination issue, our attorneys take the time to discuss every detail with you.  We will examine all of the issues that you are having and will work to provide our professional opinion as to whether you have a case.  There is never a charge to speak to a client about an employment matter and all cases are handled on a contingency fee basis, which means there is no fee unless your case is settled or won at trial.  It is also important to know that your case will be kept strictly confidential, even if we are not able to represent you.

From our office in Santa Barbara, we represent clients throughout California in employment litigation matters.  For more information or to set up a free consultation, call us at (805) 618-2924.