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Shape in the state of California with the article's title to the right.Shape in the state of California with the article's title to the right.
Shape in the state of California with the article's title to the right.

California Disability Discrimination Laws

Specific provisions for the state of California.

Team Disclo
March 26, 2024

Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees’ and applicants’ known physical or mental disabilities, unless they can show that these accommodations would cause undue hardship. Employers can’t retaliate or otherwise discriminate against employees and applicants for requesting reasonable accommodations, regardless of whether their request is granted.

Reasonable accommodations are work modifications or adjustments that enable employees or applicants with disabilities to receive equal consideration for a job, perform essential job duties, or have the same employment benefits and privileges as similarly situated employees without disabilities. Employment benefits include employment, promotions, participation in training programs leading to employment or promotions, participation in unpaid internships, or other limited-duration programs providing unpaid work experience, compensation, the provision of a discrimination-free and harassment-free workplace and other favorable terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

Reasonable accommodations can include:

  • making facilities readily accessible to employees or applicants with disabilities;
  • job restructuring;
  • providing part-time or modified work schedules;
  • reassigning employees to vacant positions;
  • acquiring or modifying equipment or devices;
  • adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies;
  • providing assistive aids and services such as qualified readers or interpreters;
  • allowing employees or applicants with disabilities to bring assistive animals to the workplace;
  • altering when or how essential job duties are performed; and
  • providing paid or unpaid leave for treatment and recovery.

Undue hardship means actions that require significant difficulty or expense based on:

  • the nature and cost of accommodations;
  • affected facilities’ overall financial resources and workforce size;
  • the impact of accommodations on expenses, resources, and facility operations;
  • employers’ overall financial resources and overall business size in terms of workforce size and number, type, and location of facilities;
  • employers’ type of operations, including workforce composition, structure, and functions; and
  • affected facilities’ geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship.

Interactive process: Employers must engage in a timely, good-faith, interactive process with employees and applicants who have known physical or mental disabilities to identify and implement effective, reasonable accommodations. Employers must participate in this process before claiming that accommodations would cause undue hardship. The process requires an individualized assessment of the job and specific physical or mental limitations that directly relate to employees’ and applicants’ need for reasonable accommodations. Employers aren’t required to eliminate essential job duties as an accommodation, but might need to accommodate employees or applicants with disabilities in ways that enable them to meet quality or quantity standards.

Employers must initiate the interactive process when:

  • employees and applicants request reasonable accommodations;
  • they become aware of employees’ and applicants’ need for reasonable accommodations through a third party or direct observation; or
  • employees exhaust leave under relevant federal or state leave laws and require additional time to recuperate or other accommodations to perform essential job duties.

Employees or applicants with disabilities must:

  • provide reasonable medical documentation, if requested, to confirm the existence of their disabilities and their need for reasonable accommodations;
  • provide information about their educational qualifications and work experience if their reassignment to another position is considered as an accommodation; and
  • communicate directly with employers when possible.

Employers can require employees and applicants who request accommodations to provide reasonable medical information, including second opinions. If employees need reasonable accommodations that extend beyond one year, employers can ask them to provide medical documents substantiating their need for these accommodations on an annual basis. Employers must grant reasonable accommodation requests or reject them after considering them and discussing alternative accommodations with employees and applicants. Employers have the right to choose among effective accommodations, but can’t require employees or applicants with disabilities to accept accommodations and can’t retaliate against them for refusing accommodations. Employers can, however, inform employees and applicants that refusing accommodations might make them unable to perform their essential job duties.

Employers have a permissible defense if they can show, after engaging in the interactive process, that there is no reasonable accommodation would allow employees or applicants with disabilities to perform their essential job functions in a way that won’t endanger their own or other people’s health or safety because their job imposes an imminent, substantial degree of risk to them or other people. Employers can’t base this defense on conditions or diseases with a future risk, unless the conditions or diseases currently interfere with employees’ or applicants’ ability to perform their job in a way that won’t endanger themselves or others. The merits of this defense are based on factors such as the duration of risk; the nature, severity, and imminence of potential harm; the likelihood that harm will occur; and relevant information about past work history. The analysis of these factors should be based on reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge or the best available objective evidence.

Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 12926 to 12926.1, 12940; Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2, §§ 11064 to 11065, 11067 to 11069

Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers, including state and local governments, with 15 or more employees, are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities. Title I protects qualified individuals with disabilities in several areas, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation and job training. It is also unlawful to retaliate against someone for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on disability, or for filing an ADA discrimination charge. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) shares enforcement authority for Title I of the ADA with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has primary responsibility for enforcing the employment provisions of the law. (Note: Federal employees and job applicants are covered by Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 instead of the ADA.

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