Legal protections afforded to employees with physical and mental disabilities

According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 27 percent of Americans age 18 and older have a physical or mental disability that "interferes with activities of daily living." Whether an individual is born with a physical or mental disability or a disability is the result of a later-in-life injury or medical condition, many disabled adults experience challenges in both attaining and retaining jobs.

In 1990, the federal government signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. The ADA protects disabled workers from suffering discrimination with regard to "hiring, firing, promotions, job assignments, benefits and pay." This means, for example, that an employer cannot fire an employee who suffers a back injury and is subsequently not able to stand for long periods of time. Instead, the employer must work to provide reasonable accommodations with regard to physical or mental constraints.

For example, the employee who suffered a back injury may have previously been in a position that required heavy lifting and long periods of time spent standing. It's possible, therefore, that the employee may be reassigned to another position where heavy lifting isn't necessary and where an employee can sit while performing work-related duties.

For individuals seeking employment, the ADA also protects against discrimination. For example, an employer cannot ask a job applicant if he or she has a disability or any questions related to the nature of an apparent disability. However, certain positions may require that an employee is able to climb stairs or lift a certain amount of weight. Therefore, regardless of a disability, a prospective employee who is not able to lift a required amount of weight may be excluded from consideration.

Los Angeles area residents who believe they have been discriminated against by an employer or prospective employer because of a physical or mental disability may seek advice from an attorney. An attorney can evaluate the circumstances of an individual’s case and help determine if legal action is appropriate.

Source:, “ADA: Disabilities & Your Rights as an Employee,” 2014

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