Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an applicant or employee who is physically or mentally disabled. Employers must also provide reasonable accommodation for those applicants and employees who, because of their disability, are unable to perform the essential functions of their job. Employers must also engage in a timely, good faith interactive process in determining the essential functions of the job with applicants or employees in need of reasonable accommodation.
A reasonable accommodation is one which would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job in light of the employee’s disability. This process can include modifying work schedules or purchasing special furniture or equipment for the employee or modifying that employee’s present equipment. It may also include leave of absence. This accommodation must be reasonable in that it does not create an undue hardship for the employer.
While an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee at work, this does not mean that the employer is required to provide any type of accommodation that the employee requires. Under the FEHA, an accommodation is reasonable if it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. An undue hardship is found when there is significant difficulty or expense to the employer when considered with respect to the nature and cost of the accommodation, overall resources of the employer, the type of business entity involved, and the overall financial resources of the facility where the employee is or would prospectively be employed.
While an accommodation does not have to be given if there is undue hardship to an employer, an employer must still engage in a good-faith interactive process. A good-faith interaction process is one where the employer engages the employee in identifying the employee’s limitations, and then explores accommodations that would allow the employee to perform the essential job functions despite those limitations. The employer should then actually weigh the overall effect to the business of providing the accommodation that would be required by the employee against the factors above before coming to a decision on whether or not to make the necessary accommodation.
Accommodation of disabilities in the workplace is vital to ensure that mental or physical disabilities are not an impossible hurdle for disabled individuals who desire gainful employment. If you are a disabled job applicant or employee and believe that an employer failed to make reasonable accommodation for your disability in the workplace or even engage in the interactive process with you to determine if a reasonable accommodation could be made, it is imperative that you contact an experienced employment law attorney to protect your legal rights. A good employment law attorney who knows all the facts of your particular situation can guide you in the right direction regarding a possible disability discrimination claim.