There are 61 million adults with disabilities in the US, accounting for 26% of the population. It also means that one in four individuals have some form of disability. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.9% of people with disabilities are employed. And because of the pandemic, the unemployment rate for disabled individuals rose to 12.6%, the highest it has reached in the past seven years.
Unemployment is not the only problem disabled individuals face today. Of the employed few, they have to contend with discrimination in the workplace. This, however, is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is a violation of a disabled person’s rights.
Discrimination in the Workplace
Disability discrimination can occur in different forms. The Disability Studies Quarterly journal conducted a study and revealed that most disabled individuals suffer from wage discrimination, employer prejudice, inadequate accommodation, and promotion decisions excluding them. In general, though, there are three common types of disability discrimination: indirect discrimination, direct discrimination, unreasonable accommodation, and harassment.
Indirect discrimination can occur in the workplace when company policies fail to provide equal rights to disabled employees. Employers should establish a good reason for a particular policy that affects disabled individuals for it to be lawful.
Direct discrimination can occur when disabled employees receive undue treatment because of their condition. For example, if you suffer from debilitating migraines resulting in frequent absences from work and your employer decides to demote you or reduce your wage, you can be a victim of direct discrimination.
In this context, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Mobility and accessibility adjustments must be present in the workplace to make it easier for disabled employees to get around, see clearly, and use office and workplace equipment smoothly.
In your case, for example, your employer should make your workplace conducive for work. Elements that trigger migraines such as bright light and loud sounds should be minimized, if not eliminated. Alternatively, an employer can make arrangements with a physician to provide headache and migraine treatment plans for employees with migraines.
Finally, disability discrimination can occur in the form of harassment. Disabled employees who suffer from humiliation, offense, taunting can report their situation as harassment. For example, if you are consistently called names because of your condition, you can claim for harassment.
Legal Agencies and Provisions That Can Address Disability Discrimination in the Workplace
Aside from the ADA, other government agencies and legal provisions address disability rights violations in the workplace.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows disabled employees to take up to 12 weeks, consecutive or not, of job-protected leave for medical reasons. To be entitled, you should provide your company’s human resources with a letter from your doctor. However, this is not a required paid leave. That would depend on your employer.
A good place to start learning about disability discrimination, however, is through the Department of Labor. The government agency is responsible for enforcing the wage, welfare, and safety of all employees working in US-based companies. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) mainly helps employers provide reasonable accommodations for their disabled employees.
On the one hand, all forms of workplace discrimination are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It is responsible for enforcing all forms of action against workplace discrimination. It provides education and guidance to employers on how to comply with legal requirements for employing disabled individuals.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, Fair Housing Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are the other federal laws covering the disabled.
Reporting a Disability Discrimination
Although the EEOC is the federal government’s enforcing agency, local EEOC offices handle disability discrimination at the state level. In general, however, you can file a complaint through ADA and EEOC by submitting an online form that can be accessed through their respective websites.
With ADA, they will review your report and connect you to the right group that focuses on your specific complaint. In some cases, they will require more information, investigate, or start a mediation process. The next steps following your report will depend on their review.
As for the EEOC, you need to contact the field office in your local area or state to determine what steps to take against your employer. Each state has its own workplace discrimination laws and, therefore, will require local enforcement.
However, both the EEOC and ADA cannot guarantee they can help all cases considering differing laws in each state. If this happens to you, you can connect with the American Bar Association or National Employment Lawyers Association to get the best legal help.
Exercise Your Rights
Whether your disability is visible or not, you can file for disability rights violations if you are treated differently or denied reasonable accommodations. Remember that there are laws that can protect you, whether you’re in the workplace or public.