Disability Under The California Fair Employment and Housing Act: Important Information for Employees

California employees who suffer from medical conditions or physical or mental disabilities are protected under the federal and state employment and labor laws.

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California employees who suffer from medical conditions or physical or mental disabilities are protected under the federal and state employment and labor laws. These laws include the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). They are similar in a lot of ways, but the California statute provides even broader protections for employees with disabilities than the federal counterpart.

Although that is the case, the actions of the US Congress, as well as the various court decisions that provide interpretations to the federal Act can cause a lot of confusion for a lot of California employees with medical conditions and/or disabilities, as well as to their employers. This is why a lot of them are not aware of the fact that the disability laws under the California FEHA are broader in a lot of aspects. To put this into perspective, a person deemed to have a disability under the state statute may not be considered as such under the federal laws; thus the confusion and the lack of awareness.

So to further understand what disability is and what protections California employees can be entitled to, it would be worth discussing what the term “disability” really means under the FEHA, as opposed to what the federal law defines as the same.

FEHA definition of disability

Under the FEHA, an individual is considered “disabled” if he or she has a physical or mental disability that makes it difficult for him to perform a major life activity. In comparison, the FEHA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Meanwhile, the term “major life activity” under the FEHA broadly means any physical, mental, and social activity. Even “working” is a major life activity, so for an individual to be deemed disabled, his or her work should have limitations in performing the requirements of a single, particular job.

Requirements for employers covered by the FEHA

Employers that are covered by the FEHA are required to perform two things once they’ve established that certain employees and/or applicants have disabilities or have medical conditions. First, they are required to provide reasonable accommodation for both employees and applicants who cannot perform the essential functions of their respective jobs due to their disabilities and/or conditions. Second, they must make sure that they engage with applicants and employments in need of reasonable accommodations in a “timely, good faith interactive process.”

FEHA protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination

Although the California disability laws are beneficial for applicants and employees, there are employers that fail to uphold their rights. Instances of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on account of their disabilities and medical conditions happen frequently, if not on a daily basis. Those affected can always first exhaust administrative remedies by forwarding their complaints internally with their human resources department. However, if there’s no action taken and the issues persist, then they must be able to file their complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Once a notice of right-to-sue is given, they may then seek the expertise of a Los Angeles employment lawyer.

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