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

Washington Disability Discrimination Laws

Specific provisions for the state of Washington.

Team Disclo
September 13, 2022

Employers can’t fail or refuse to make reasonable accommodations for employees or applicants with disabilities who can perform their job with or without reasonable accommodations, unless employers can prove that these accommodations would impose undue hardship. Employers also can’t fail or refuse to make reasonable accommodations for the use of trained dog guides or service animals by employees or applicants with disabilities who can perform their job with or without reasonable accommodations, unless employers can prove that these accommodations would impose undue hardship.

Reasonable accommodations are measures that enable equal opportunity in the application process, proper performance of a particular job, or the enjoyment of equal benefits, privileges, or terms and conditions of employment. They can include adjusting job duties, work schedules, or the scope of work; changing the job setting or conditions of work; and informing employees of vacant positions and considering them for those positions for which they are qualified. Undue hardship means that the cost or difficulty of accommodations is unreasonable when considering factors such as employers’ size and available resources, whether the cost can be included in planned remodeling or maintenance projects; and the requirements of other laws and contracts.

To qualify for reasonable accommodations, impairments must be known or shown through an interactive process to exist and:

  • they must have a substantially limiting effect on employees’ or applicants’ ability to perform their job, ability to apply or be considered for a job, or access to equal benefits, privileges, or terms and conditions of employment; or
  • employees must have notified employers about the existence of these impairments, and medical documentation must establish a reasonable likelihood that engaging in job functions without accommodations would aggravate the impairments to the point of having that substantially limiting effect.

Employers can seek a health-care professional’s opinion on whether a particular disability affects an employee’s or applicant’s job performance if this professional is licensed to diagnose and assess the disability. Employers also can seek the professional’s opinion on possible effective accommodations that would enable the employee or applicant to perform a job. An opinion on whether a person with a disability can perform a job must be based on the person’s individual capabilities instead of generalizations about the capabilities of all people with the same disability. It also must be based on knowledge of the actual sensory, mental, or physical qualifications needed to perform the job.

[Note: The Washington Supreme Court has held that reasonable accommodations don’t include providing an employee with a new supervisor. Snyder v. Med. Serv. Corp. of Eastern Washington, 35 P.3d 1158,, 1163 (Wash. 2001).]

Public health emergencies: Effective May 11, 2021, during a public health emergency, employers are prohibited from discharging, permanently replacing, or in any manner discriminating against an employee who is high risk as a result of the employee seeking an accommodation that protects them from the risk of exposure to the infectious or contagious disease or, if no accommodation is reasonable, using all available leave options, including leave without pay and unemployment insurance, until the end of the public health emergency or an accommodation is made available. An employee who is high risk means an employee who:

  • due to age or an underlying health condition, is at a high risk of severe illness from the disease that is the subject of the public health emergency, as defined by the centers for disease control and prevention; and
  • a medical provider has recommended the employee’s removal from the workplace because of their high risk of severe illness.

Public health emergency means a declaration or order concerning any infectious or contagious diseases, including a pandemic, and is issued when:

  • the President of the United States has declared a national or regional emergency that covers every county in Washington; or
  • the Governor of Washington has declared a state of emergency under Wash. Rev. Code § 43.06.010(12)in every county in the state.

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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