The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) fielded more than 67,000 workplace discrimination claims in 2020. Over half of those complaints were for retaliation, followed in second place by worker disability claims at 36.1%.
The EEOC recovered over $439 million in compensation for workers with disabilities, including a 16-year record amount through litigation of $106 million. Two of the biggest challenges for employers are that some workers’ needs can be difficult to identify, and discrimination isn’t always obvious.
California disability discrimination claims
The most recent data available for California is from 2019. The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing received over 22,500 discrimination claims, and disability complaints were at the top of the list at 2,868 or 19%. Workers received $14.8 million in compensation, and less than one-third of the cases were settled out of court.
Four tips for avoiding disability discrimination
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protect workers with disabilities in the Golden State. Here are four ways you can reduce the risk of a discrimination claim:
- Understand the laws and be proactive: California employers must have policies and procedures in place to accommodate workers with disabilities. However, that’s not enough to avoid a discrimination claim. Maintain a dialogue with the employee to ensure that the accommodations are acceptable and adjust when necessary.
- Be prompt and flexible: Companies with strict rules often get into trouble for rejecting reasonable requests, such as scheduling changes, adaptive equipment, assigned parking spots or not responding to requests from workers with disabilities.
- Exercise discretion: Some accommodations for workers with disabilities are apparent to everyone in the workplace. However, be careful disclosing conditions that aren’t obvious. Limit the knowledge of a worker’s disability only to those who need to know, such as a supervisor.
- Document the process: State and federal laws require you to maintain an interactive process over disability accommodation. Keep a detailed accounting of all discussions and actions, including ongoing conversations, to gauge whether any adjustments are necessary.
Finally, work with an experienced California employment law attorney to review your policies and procedures to ensure you comply with ADA and FEHA rules. It is also essential to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer before terminating someone with a disclosed disability.