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Disability Discrimination and Employer's Medical Leave Requirements During Interactive Process

Posted by Chris Harmon | Oct 02, 2023

As a qualified employee or job applicant, regardless of disability, you deserve to be treated fairly by an employer. It is unlawful to be treated unfavorably due to any disability. Unfortunately, disability discrimination in California happens. It could be a supervisor or a co-worker creating a hostile work environment. It does not matter who is causing it; what matters is that you have been discriminated against in the workplace based on your disability. When this happens, you are entitled to take action. In some cases, you may be owed compensation.

At Chris Harmon Law, we understand the laws surrounding employee disabilities and will uphold your rights. Contact us at (800) 520-1924 to schedule a Free Consultation and to learn more about your legal options.


Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a disability is defined in one of the following ways:

  • A physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities.
  • A record or history of an impairment known to the employer.
  • Being regarded or treated as having, or having had, an impairment that:
  • makes achieving a major life activity difficult; or
  • has no present disabling effect, but may become a disability.
  • Any health impairment that requires or has required special education or related services.
  • A medical condition.

(Cal. Gov't Code § 12926(j), (m); Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2, § 11065(d)(1) to (8).)

The disability definition also should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals. If the ADA or the ADAAA's definition of a disability results in broader protection for an individual with a physical or mental disability or includes any medical condition not covered by FEHA's disability definitions, that broader coverage is deemed incorporated by reference into the FEHA's provisions (Cal. Gov't Code § 12926(n); Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2, § 11065(d)(8)).

The FEHA also defines these terms:


The FEHA, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the Disabled Persons Act are state laws that protect people from discrimination based on disability. The laws also require employers, housing providers and business establishments to make reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities can perform their jobs, have equal housing opportunities, and, have equal access to businesses and services. In California disabilities are broadly defined as conditions that limit a major life activity, including physical and mental disabilities, as well as medical conditions such as cancer or HIV/AIDS. California definitions and protections can be broader than protections under federal law.

These rights include:

  • Free from harassment. A disabled person cannot be harassed regarding their disability in the workplace by supervisors, managers, or co-workers.
  • Reasonable accommodations. A person who suffers from a disability has the right to request reasonable accommodations to allow them to apply for a job, perform their job duties, or otherwise have the same benefits as other employees.
  • Privacy. An employer is very limited in what they can ask an employee about in regard to their health. 
  • Confidentiality. With limited exceptions, any information an employee does share with an employer in regard to their health must be kept confidential.
  • Free from retaliation. A person who does complain about disability discrimination, or is associated with a person who complains about disability discrimination, cannot be retaliated against. 


Disability discrimination can take various forms. Some common examples are described below.


A disabled employee should have the same access to areas around the office as other, non-disabled employees. An employee in a wheelchair, for example, should be able to maneuver around the same as everyone else and access all areas of the office available to other employees. 

When an employer leaves areas inaccessible and, thus, fails to comply with the ADA, disability discrimination exists.


If an employee requires an accommodation that would be no hardship on the employer to effectively complete their job, the employer should comply with that accommodation. For example, if an employee is partially deaf and cannot hear well in a noisy environment and requests a workspace in a quieter area, the employer should provide them with a new workspace when possible. When an employer fails to provide reasonable accommodation, a disability discrimination claim may exist.


A disabled employee's disability should never be the subject of office jokes or teasing. For example, an employee who is blind should never be made fun of due to their loss of vision. Jokes, however, do not have to be specific to the employee's disability but relevant to disabilities in general. If there's a pattern of jokes or teasing in the office, a hostile work environment is created. As such, the employer may be liable for disability discrimination. 


An employer cannot pass you over for a promotion if you have a disability or if you are close to someone with a disability. For example, an employee has a child with a disability and finds out that the reason they were not promoted is that their manager thought it would be too much responsibility for someone with a disabled family member. This failure to promote on this basis may qualify as disability discrimination and is unlawful. 


To secure the protection, you must be qualified for the job and have a disability defined by the law. A disability can be established in one of three ways:

  1. You have a physical or mental condition, and it substantially limits a major life activity. Examples of major life activities include walking, seeing, and hearing.
  2. You have a history or record of a disability (mental or physical impairment) that substantially limited a major life activity, even though you do not have the disability now. An example of this type of disability is cancer––you had cancer but are now in remission.
  3. You are regarded as having a physical impairment, which could mean any of the following: (1) you have an impairment that does not substantially limit a major life activity; (2) you have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity because of the way others perceive you; or (3) you have no impairment but are still treated by an entity as having one.


  • Autism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Blindness
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness
  • Depression (severe)
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • HIV infection
  • Loss of limb(s)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Paraplegia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Quadriplegia
  • Schizophrenia


Simply having a medical condition or mental health issue will not always constitute a disability for the purposes of disability discrimination claims or complaints. Examples of conditions that do not constitute an impairment in terms of the ADA include:

  • Compulsive gambling
  • Kleptomania
  • Pedophilia
  • Psychoactive substance use disorders (as a consequence of illegal substance abuse)
  • Sexual behavior disorders 


An employee who has been discriminated against often feels embarrassed and angry, with good reason. It is important that the employee makes their plight known so it can be addressed. Here are a few things you can do.

  1. Understand your disability. Make sure your disability is protected. What qualifies as a disability may vary from federal law to state law and from state law to state law. So, you should confirm it with a disability discrimination attorney in California or in whichever state you reside and/or work.
  2. Document everything. If you suspect disability discrimination, keep a journal of everything. The more information you document the better, including work tasks, dates, times, locations, names, etc. 
  3. Be specific. If you were discriminated against during an interview, document what happened. Were you asked about your medical history? Were you asked to take a medical exam? If the discrimination involves a lack of proper accommodations, document your requests for reasonable accommodations and how the employer responded. Keep in mind that an employer can provide their own reasonable accommodations that meet their budget and your needs. If the discrimination involves harassment, document the discriminatory events but also document any retaliatory action, like pay reduction, reduced work hours, termination, or additional harassment. Also, you should document when you report the discrimination, to whom, when, and how it was reported, and what happened after it was reported.
  4. Report it internally. When you think you are the victim of disability discrimination, speak with a manager, supervisor, and/or a human resource representative. If your employer has a specific policy on discrimination reporting, follow it. Filing a report or complaint with the company formally puts the company on notice of the discrimination. 
  5. File an administrative complaint. If the employer does nothing or inadequately responds, you should file a complaint with the EEOC or a local agency that handles discrimination. Time is of the essence here. 
  6. Contact Chris Harmon Law. Our employment law attorney is well-versed in this area of law and will help you throughout the entire process.

Taking these steps will put you in a better position to prove your case and recover the remedies or compensation you deserve.


Contact us by filling out the online form or calling us at (800) 520-1924 to schedule a Free Consultation and to learn more about the recourse you can take.

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