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What should I know about disability rights at work?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Disability rights at work in Georgia Resources

Disability rights at work in Georgia

What should I know? +

Contents


What is the ADA?

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes discrimination against people with disabilities illegal. The ADA applies to all parts of public life, including:

  • Work,

  • Schools,

  • Public transportation, and

  • Any public or private area that is open to the general public.

 

The ADA applies to you if you are a person with a disability. Disability is defined as a: 

  • physical or mental impairment that 

  • substantially limits one or more major life activity.

 

Under the ADA, you are also protected from discrimination if:

  • You had a disability in the past. For example, you cannot be passed over for a promotion because you had an illness and your boss is worried it might come back.

  • You don’t have a disability but people think you do.

  • You have a relationship with someone with a disability. For example, it is illegal to fire someone because their child has HIV. 

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What are my rights at work under the ADA?

The ADA applies to:

  • State and local government jobs, and 

  • Employers with 15 or more employees. 

 

Discrimination/Harassment

You have the right to be free from discrimination and harassment based on disability. Your employer cannot make a decision about hiring, firing, promotion, or any other term of employment because:

  • You are a person with a disability,

  • You had a disability in the past,

  • They think you are a person with a disability, or

  • You are associated with a person with a disability. 

 

If you are discriminated against or harassed at work, you have the right to file a charge against your employer.  You are responsible for filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You must do this BEOFRE you can file a lawsuit against your employer.

 

Reasonable Accommodation

If you are a person with a disability, you have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. A reasonable accommodation is any change that: 

  • Helps you perform the essential duties of the job,

  • Allows you to apply for a job, or

  • Lets you enjoy the benefits and privileges of the job.

 

The change may be to the:

  • Application or hiring process,

  • Job,

  • Way the job is done, or

  • Work environment.

 

Whether an accommodation is “reasonable” depends on the job. Some accommodations that might be reasonable include:

  • Having reserved parking,

  • Providing accessible software or equipment,

  • Reassigning you to an open job,

  • Allowing a flexible schedule,

  • Giving time off for medical treatment, 

  • Allowing service animals, or

  • Improving the design of the workplace for a person with a disability. This may be adding a ramp or changing the layout of the restrooms.

 

You are responsible for requesting an accommodation from your employer. You can ask for an accommodation at any time during the hiring process or after you are hired. You can ask for an accommodation even if you did tell your employer about your disability earlier.

 

Medical Information

You have the right to not answer any medical questions before an employer offers you a job. 

 

You have the right to not tell a potential employer or employer about your disability unless you are requesting an accommodation. If you are asking for an accommodation, you may need to share medical evidence of your disability. 

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What are an employer’s rights and responsibilities under the ADA?

Discrimination/Harassment

Employers are responsible for creating a workplace that is free from discrimination.

 

Employers have the right to review and respond to a charge of discrimination filed by an employee. 

 

Reasonable Accommodation

An employer is responsible for giving reasonable accommodations to:

  • An employee with a disability, or

  • A qualified job applicant with a disability. Qualified means that the applicant: 

    • has the skills, experience, and education to do the job, and

    • Can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. A person is still qualified even if they cannot perform marginal or incidental job functions. A written job description is evidence of what the employer thinks are essential job functions.

 

The employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would create an “undue hardship.” An undue hardship means that the accommodation would be:

  • Too difficult, or

  • Too expensive to provide.

 

What is considered too hard or expensive depends on the business. The employer cannot refuse to provide an accommodation just because it costs money. However, if there is more than one accommodation that would work, the employer has the right to choose the accommodation. 

 

Medical Information

Employers cannot ask you about your disability or for medical information until they give you a job offer. However, employers do have the right to ask you:

  • If you can do the job, and 

  • How you would do the job (with or without reasonable accommodations). 

 

After you have a job offer, an employer can make the job conditional on you answering medical questions or taking a medical exam. BUT they can only do this if all new employees in this type of job have to answer the same questions or take a medical exam. An employer can only withdraw an offer if:

  • You cannot perform the essential function of the job even with reasonable accommodations, or

  • Your disability would create a real safety issue.

 

Once you have a job, your employer can generally only ask for medical information if:

  • The information is needed to support your request for an accommodation,

  • The employer thinks you cannot perform your job because of a medical condition.

 

Employers are responsible for keeping all medical information private. Medical records must be separate from other employee records.

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What can I do? +

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How can I ask for an accomodation at work?

Many employers will have a process in place for asking for a reasonable accommodation. In general, to request an accommodation at work, you must:

  • Tell your employer about your disability. Employers are only required to accommodate disabilities that they know about.

  • Tell your employer or a potential employer that you need an accommodation. Just telling an employer about your disability may not be enough. You will need to tell the employer what you specifically need changed. 

    • You do not have to use the words “ADA” or “accommodation.” 

    • Your request does not have to be in writing, but it is a good idea to put it in writing in case there is a problem later on.

  • Work with the employer to find a reasonable accommodation. You may ask the employer for something specific or you may need to work together to come up with a solution that works. There is no specific deadline, but your employer must respond to your request in a reasonable time. 

  • Make sure the accommodation is working. If the accommodation is not working, you may need to start the process again.

 

You can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Equal Employment Division (EED) if:

  • You think the employer does not have a valid reason for denying your request,

  • Your employer ignored your request, or

  • Your employer does not tell you the reason your request was denied.

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What can I do if my employer violates my rights under the ADA?

The parts of the ADA that apply to employment are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Equal Employment Division (EED).

 

You can file a charge if: 

  • You have been discriminated against by an employer,

  • Your employer retaliated against you for engaging in a protected activity, like: 

    • reporting discrimination or 

    • asking for an accommodation, or 

  • Your employer did not give you a reasonable accommodation that they should have. 

 

You must first file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Equal Employment Division (EED). You have to do this BEFORE you can file a lawsuit against your employer. There are different procedures depending on what kind of employer you work for. 

 

How can I file a complaint if my employer has 15 or more employees?

If you work for an employer with 15 or more employees, you have 180 days from the date of the discrimination to file a charge with the EEOC.

 

Begin the process:

  • Online through the EEOC’s Public Portal

    • Start by submitting an inquiry. This will help the EEOC to decide if they can handle your complaint. 

    • After your inquiry, you can schedule an initial interview. The interview will be in person or over the phone with an EEOC staff person.  The staff person will discuss your case, your rights and responsibilities and the process.

    • Once you have the interview, you will get instructions for filing a charge.

  • In person at your local EEOC office.

    • You can make an appointment online or walk-in. Bring any documents or information that supports your claim. 

    • The staff person will discuss your case, your rights and responsibilities and the process.

    • Once you have the interview, you will get instructions for filing a charge.

 

What happens after I file an EEOC charge?

After you file an EEOC charge, the EEOC has 10 days to contact your employer. The employer will get information about the charge. 

 

The EEOC will then investigate your claim. During the investigation, your employer may try to mediate or settle your charge. This is completely up to you. You do not have to accept any settlement offer or agree to mediation.

 

After the investigation, the EEOC will decide whether there is enough evidence to prove discrimination.

  • If they cannot conclude that the discrimination happened, you will get a notice called a Dismissal and Notice of Rights. Once you get this, you will have 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court.

  • If they decide there is reasonable cause to believe there was discrimination, you will get a Letter of Determination. This letter invites you to try to settle the claim through an informal mediation process. This is called conciliation.

  • If you can’t settle the issue through conciliation, the EEOC will either:

    • File a lawsuit in federal court on your behalf, or 

    • Send you a Notice of Right to Sue.  Once you get this, you will have 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court.

 

How can I file a complaint if I am a federal employee or job applicant?

There is a different process if you are a federal employee or job applicant. 

  • You must first contact an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Counselor for your agency. Do this within 45 days of the discrimination.

  • The EEO counselor will give you the choice of EEO counseling or a mediation program. 

  • If you do not settle the claim, you can file a formal complaint against the agency with the agency’s EEO Office. You must file this within 15 days of getting notice from the EEO Counselor about how to file a complaint.

  • The agency will then investigate. It has 180 days to finish the investigation. You will then get two choices:

    • Either request a hearing with an EEOC Administrative Judge.

      • You must request a hearing within 30 days.

      • If you disagree with the judge’s decision you can appeal the decision to the EEOC or file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days.

    • Ask the agency to make a decision.

      • If you ask the agency to make a decision and they find no discrimination, you can appeal the decision to the EEOC or file a lawsuit in federal district court within 90 days.


 

How can I file a complaint if I am a State of Georgia employee?

If you are an employee of the State of Georgia, you must first file a complaint with the Georgia Equal Employment Division (EED). You have 180 days from the discrimination to file your complaint. 

 

The EED will then either:

  • Investigate the complaint or

  • Refer the complaint to the EEOC to investigate.

 

During the investigation, the EED will likely ask you to settle or mediate your complaint. This is completely voluntary. You do not have to agree to any settlement unless you want to. 

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What can I do if I work for an employer that has less than 15 employees?

Federal harassment and discrimination laws only cover employers with a certain number of employees. Georgia does not have an anti-harassment or anti-discrimination law that covers employers with fewer employees (unless you work for a local or state government office). 

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Resources

Last Review and Update: Mar 09, 2020