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Common Misunderstandings About California Disability Laws

Written By: Mo Eldessouky Updated On: April 4, 2024 | Read Time: 3 Minutes

Commonly Misunderstood Rules for Disabled Employees in California

The California Fair Employment and Housing, or FEHA, offers more protection to our state’s employees than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, provides, as the verbiage extends well beyond the latter’s coverage. Since California laws differ from the federal version, misunderstood rules for disabled employees are not uncommon, and it is important to know your rights – and that of fellow employees.

The ADA definition for disability: A mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a single major life activity or multiple activities.

The FEHA defines a disability as: A physical or mental impairment that makes any major life activity difficult, applying coverage for workers with wide-ranging disorders, diseases, and conditions that are considered a disability – and not just a physical or mental impairment.

These disorders can include:

  • Biological challenges including loss of a limb
  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases including HIV/AIDs, diabetes, and hepatitis or clinical depression and bipolar disorder
  • Impaired senses, including eyesight, hearing, speech
  • Intellectual or cognitive disabilities
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Specific learning disabilities

Since the coverage is expanded for employees in California, it is important to also know what is not covered by the FEHA laws.

These commonly misunderstood categories are not included as disabilities or protected areas of impairment:

  • Compulsive gambling
  • Kleptomania
  • Pyromania
  • Sexual behavior disorders
  • Unlawful use of controlled substances resulting in impairment

Special Case: Obesity

In most cases, obesity is not treated as a physical disability, unless it is caused by something physical and involuntary. For employees to be entitled to protection from disability discrimination for obesity, their weight problem must be caused by a biological condition or disorder that affects the body system. In addition, that person’s weight must limit their ability to participate in major life activities.

Commonly Misunderstood Rules for Employers Interacting with Disabled Employees

The employer/employee relationship may seem confusing when a disability is involved. A commonly misunderstood rule is that it may be considered crossing the line when asking about the disability itself. However, employers do have the right to understand the disabled individual’s limits, as it pertains to their employment.

Employers may:

  • Ask an applicant about his or her ability to perform job-related functions
  • Respond to a request for reasonable accommodation, and whether it creates an undue hardship to the business and its operation
  • Ask for a medical certification of an employee or applicant’s need for reasonable accommodation
  • Be liable for negligently allowing an employee with a disability to be harassed by coworkers
  • Be in violation of the law if an employer believed – mistakenly or otherwise – that the employee had a disability or potential disability

Employers may NOT:

  • Ask about the nature or severity of a prospect or employee’s disabilities
  • Require an applicant to take a medical or psychological exam that is not routinely given to all employees or prospects
  • Pay an employee less because of their disability
  • Restrict privileges, terms, or conditions of their job because of their disability

If there is ever any confusion regarding what is legal interaction and what may qualify as discrimination, contact our disability discrimination attorney at Eldessouky Law in California today at (714) 409-8991 to understand your rights, and hold your employer accountable if they are in violation of state or federal laws.

We are available for video conference calls

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