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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Disability Discrimination

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-12-31 (Rev. 2010-07-04) - US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforcement of federal laws makes it illegal to discriminate against job applicants and employees. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Thomas C. Weiss.
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The role of the EEOC is to fairly investigate and accurately assess allegations related to charges and present a finding.

What is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has the responsibility of enforcement of federal laws which make it illegal to discriminate against job applicants and employee's due to their race, color, religion, disability, sex to include pregnancy, nation of origin, age including and beyond forty years, or genetic information. The Commission enforces laws that make it illegal to discriminate against someone because they have complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or taken part in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

The majority of employers who have a minimum of fifteen employee's are covered by EEOC laws. In age discrimination cases, employers with a minimum of twenty employee's are covered under these laws. The majority of employment agencies and labor unions are covered under these laws as well. The laws apply to every type of work situation, to include hiring, firing, promotion, training, wages and benefits.

The Commission has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law, and should it find that discrimination has happened, it will attempt to settle the charge. If the EEOC is not successful, it also has the authority to file a lawsuit in order to protect the rights of both individuals and the public interest.

The EEOC use education, outreach and technical assistance programs as means of discrimination prevention, providing leadership and guidance to federal agencies regarding every aspect of the government's equal opportunity program. The Commission works to assure federal agency and department compliance with their regulations through provision of technical assistance to these federal agencies about Equal Employment Opportunity-compliant adjudication. They monitor and evaluate affirmative employment programs within federal agencies, develop and distribute educational materials in the federal sector, and conduct training for stakeholders. The EEOC provides both assistance and guidance to their Administrative Judges, who conduct hearings on Equal Employment Opportunity complaints and adjudicate appeals from administrative decisions made by federal agencies in regards to Equal Employment Opportunity complaints. The EEOC does their work through their headquarters offices in Washington, D.C., as well as through fifty-three field offices around America.

The EEOC states that not everyone who experiences a form of medical condition is eligible for protection by the law. To receive protections by law as a person with a disability, the person has to both qualify for the job and have a form of disability as defined by the law. The person can demonstrate that they have a form of disability in one of three ways. The person may be disabled if they have either a mental or physical condition which limits a major life activity, such as talking, seeing, walking, learning or hearing. The person may be disabled if they have a history of a disability, such as a form of cancer that is now in remission. The person may also be disabled if they are believed to have either a mental or physical impairment that is not transitory or minor, even if they do not have such an impairment.

What Is Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination, according to the EEOC, is something that happens when either an employer or another entity that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act as amended, treats a qualified person with a disability who is an employee or an applicant unfavorably because the person has a disability. Disability discrimination may also happen when a covered employer or other entity treats an employee or applicant less favorably because the person has a history of a disability. For example, a person may have cancer that is either controlled or in remission. Disability discrimination may occur because the person is believed to have either a mental or physical impairment that is not expected to last six months or less, referred to as, 'transitory,' or, 'minor,' even if the person does not have the impairment.

Disability, Harassment and the Law

The law in America states that it is illegal to harass employee's or applicants due to their disability, because they have experienced disability in the past, or because the person is believed to have either a mental or physical impairment that is not transitory and minor, even if they do not have such and impairment. An example of harassment of an employee or applicant with a disability can include offensive remarks about the person's disability. While the law does not prohibit things such as offhand remarks, simple teasing, or isolated incidents which are not very serious - harassment is illegal when it becomes frequent or severe to the point where it creates an offensive or hostile work environment. Harassment is also illegal once it results in an adverse employment decision, such as the person who experiences a disability being demoted or fired. The harasser might be the person's supervisor, co-worker, or even a customer, client, or someone else who is not an employee of the employer.

Disability, Discrimination and Reasonable Accommodation

Law in America requires an employer to provide an employee or applicant who experiences a form of disability with reasonable accommodations, unless doing so would cause the employer a significant amount of difficulty or expense - referred to as, 'undue hardship.' The law protects individuals from discrimination based upon their relationship with someone with a disability, even if the individuals themselves do not experience a form of disability. As an example, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because their spouse has a form of disability. In fact - law in America forbids discrimination in regards to any aspect of employment, to include hiring, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, firing, training, fringe benefits, or any other condition or term of a person's employment.

Reasonable accommodations can include changes to work environments, or the way things are commonly done, that assist a person with a disability in applying for a job, performing their duties, or enjoying the privileges and benefits of their employment. Examples of reasonable accommodations might include providing an interpreter or reader for persons who are either hearing impaired or blind, or making a workplace wheelchair accessible for wheelchair users. At this time, federal anti-discrimination laws do not require employers to accommodate employee's who must care for a family member with a disability, although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) might require employers to do so. The Department of Labor enforces the FMLA, and can be reached at: 1-888-487-9243.

'Undue Hardship,' in the minds of the EEOC, means that the accommodation would be too expensive or difficult for an employer to provide when the employer's financial resources, size, and the needs of the business are taken into consideration. An employer may not; however, refuse to provide an accommodation simply because there is cost involved. Employers do not have to provide the exact accommodation an employee or applicant desires; if more than one accommodation works, an employer can choose which one they wish to provide.

Disability, Medical Examinations and Employment

The law places strict limitations on employers when it comes to asking people who are applying for jobs to answer medical questions, take a medical exam, or identify a disability. Employers can not ask people who are applying for jobs to answer medical questions, or to take a medical exam, before extending them a job offer. Employers also cannot ask job applicants if they have a form of disability, or about the nature of a disability that is obvious. Employers cannot ask job applicants whether or not they are able to perform the job, or how they would perform the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.

Once a job has been offered to a person applying for it, the law permits an employer to condition the job offer on the applicant answering certain medical questions, or successfully passing a medical examination - but only if every new employee in the same type of job has to answer the questions, or take the examination. Once a person has been hired and started working, an employer usually can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical documentation in order to support the employee's request for an accommodation, or if the employer believes that the employee is unable to perform their job safely or successfully due to a medical condition. The law also requires employers to keep medical records and information confidential and in separate medical files - www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm






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