Physical Disability or Medical Condition

Employers sometimes terminate or take other adverse actions against workers because they suffer from a physical disability or medical condition.  This scenario often arises when workers begin their employment in good condition but suffer a medical setback while they are employed and are therefore not able to do their job in the same way that they did before.

Disability Discrimination

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), which is similar to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against a worker on the basis of their physical disability or medical condition.  In such cases, the employer will often attempt to hide the fact that they were motivated to take action against the worker on the basis of their disability, and will instead try to point to other non-discriminatory reasons for their actions.  The key to winning such cases for disabled workers is to demonstrate that their disability was the true reason for their termination, and the employer’s stated reasons are nothing more than false pretense.

For example, where a worker has received on the job injuries and had to miss time because of those injuries, but has rehabilitated himself and is ready to return to work, an employer cannot terminate them simply because they view them as “injury-prone” or less than 100% healthy.

Reasonable Accommodations

Under FEHA, workers who suffer from qualifying disabilities or medical conditions are also entitled to reasonable accommodations.  That is to say, if they can perform their usual and customary job duties with such accommodations, they generally have a right to keep their job.  The employer must engage in what is known as an “interactive process” with the employee, which is generally in the form of a meeting, wherein both sides discuss how the disabled employee can be accommodated and continue to perform her job.  The law requires that all reasonable options be explored, including provision of special equipment, restructuring of schedules, modification of duties, or other common sense solutions. 

For example, where a worker develops carpal tunnel syndrome in their hands after years of writing and typing reports, the employer should consider offering that employee software which enables them to dictate their reports instead of using their hands.

Family and Medical Leave

The California Family Rights Act (“CFRA), which is similar to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), guarantees workers up to 12 weeks of family or sick leave per year, provided they have been working for the employer for at least one year.  If the employer terminates the employee for taking off from work due to his own medical condition or to tend to a sick family member for 12 weeks or less, the law prohibits the employer from terminating the worker for doing so. These statutes contain various other limitations and conditions which experienced counsel will consider in evaluating a particular case.


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