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Discrimination, a term often heard but not always fully understood, is a critical concept in the realm of employment law. It refers to the unfair treatment of an employee in various aspects of their job, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, and more. Even if you are employed under the at-will doctrine, which allows for termination without cause, certain reasons for termination or discriminatory actions are illegal. It’s essential to comprehend your rights as an employee to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

What Constitutes Discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfavorably due to specific characteristics or conditions. This includes disability or medical and genetic conditions. The scope of discrimination encompasses various facets of employment, such as hiring, firing, compensation, job assignments, promotions, training, fringe benefits, and any other terms or conditions of employment.

Legal vs. Illegal Discrimination

Not all forms of discrimination are illegal. For instance, it’s lawful to base hiring decisions on factors like educational qualifications or years of experience in the field. Similarly, laying off employees based on seniority or job performance, when done fairly, is permissible. However, discrimination based on disability, medical condition, or genetic information is prohibited by law.

Understanding Disability Protection

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with disabilities are entitled to protection against discrimination in the workplace. But what constitutes a disability under the law?

  • A disability can be either physical or mental.
  • It must substantially limit a major life activity, such as walking, talking, seeing, or learning.
  • It includes having a history of disability or being perceived as having a disability.
  • The limitation need not be long-term or severe, and it can be periodic.

Illegal Employment Practices Related to Disability Discrimination

Harassment

Harassment based on disability is illegal when it creates a hostile work environment or results in adverse employment actions such as termination. Examples include offensive remarks about an individual’s disability or their association with a disabled person.

Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodation

Employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to enable employees to perform their job duties. Examples of accommodations include wheelchair accessibility, assistive technology for visually impaired employees, flexible schedules, and job reassignment. However, employers may refuse accommodation requests if they pose an undue hardship, considering factors like the company’s size and financial resources.

Disability-Related Inquiries

Employers are prohibited from asking about an individual’s disability during the application process. After a job offer is made, medical exams or disability-related inquiries are only permitted if they are uniformly required for all new employees in similar positions. Additionally, employers can only inquire about medical conditions if they affect job performance or if the employee requests an accommodation.

Confidentiality

All medical records must be kept confidential and separate from personnel files to protect employee privacy.

Retaliation and Interference

Employees are protected from retaliation or adverse actions for requesting accommodations, filing complaints about discrimination, or participating in investigations of discriminatory practices.

Protection Against Medical or Genetic Information Discrimination

Employees are safeguarded from discrimination based on medical or genetic information. This includes information obtained from genetic tests of the individual or their family members.

Empowering Yourself: Seeking Legal Guidance

In conclusion, understanding your rights in the workplace is crucial for ensuring fair treatment and protection against discrimination. If you believe you’ve experienced discrimination or have concerns about your rights, seeking legal guidance is advisable. Remember, you have the right to request reasonable accommodations and report discriminatory practices without fear of retaliation. Your workplace should be a safe and equitable environment for all employees.

J. Horowitz
J. Horowitz

J. Horowitz leverages over two decades of experience as a seasoned employment law attorney in Arizona to offer insightful freelance writing on the same subject. After a successful career advocating for fairness and justice in the workplace, J. now dedicates his expertise to writing comprehensive articles, blog posts, and thought leadership pieces that illuminate the complexities of employment law.