Employees are protected against disability discrimination in the workplace under Florida disability laws. Workers have the right to be treated equally and fairly, and employers should be held accountable for violating the law.
Do you know your workplace rights?
WHAT IS DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE
Disability discrimination occurs when people are treated differently at work because of a disability or a perceived disability. This includes all aspects of employment, such as wages, raises, promotions, health insurance.
The Florida Civil Rights Act prohibits employment practices that discriminate against someone with a disability. This Act does not have a direct definition of the term disability, but the federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), defines the term as:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- Having a record (history) of such an impairment
- Being regarded by others (in this case, the employer) as having an impairment
When there is a case of disability discrimination in the workplace, employee rights lawyers will typically use the definition of a disability utilized by the ADA when negotiating with employers or going to court.
Who is Considered Disabled Under the Law?
A person who meets the parameters defined by the ADA would be considered disabled in Florida. State courts and Florida ADA laws utilize these federal guidelines and the overall protections of the Florida Civil Rights Act to protect workers from disability discrimination in the workplace.
EXAMPLES OF DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE
A wide variety of actions can occur that could be considered disability discrimination. Some examples include:
- Not giving a disabled employee a promotion even though they were the most qualified and able to perform duties required for the job
- Paying an employee a lower wage than others who do not have a disability that is performing the same job
- Harassing an employee based on their disability.
- Asking a job applicant about their current or past medical conditions
- Requiring a job applicant to take a medical exam for hiring/employment purposes
- Having or establishing a workplace environment that creates substantial physical barriers that infringe on the movement of people with physical disabilities
- Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace for employees with a mental or physical disability that would allow them to work
- Retaliating against an employee because they asked for reasonable accommodation in the workplace (such as a demotion, termination, or assigning additional duty assignments that were not part of the job description)
- Refusing to offer an employee health care coverage due to a disability when health care coverage is offered to other employees
These are particular examples of what could be considered disability discrimination in the workplace. They may not be fully comprehensive. Each situation is different. If you believe your workplace rights have been violated, consulting with an employment lawyer is essential.
Federal Disability Discrimination Laws
Disability discrimination in Florida should never be tolerated. With solid protections passed into law by the US government, employers can and should be held accountable for their illegal actions. Here are the federal laws that protect workers with disabilities.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
The ADA is the primary federal law utilized in disability discrimination in workplace cases. Under the ADA, it is illegal for state and local governments, private employers, labor unions, and employment agencies to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities during the hiring process and employment. This includes job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other work areas.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
This precursor to the ADA focuses specifically on federal employment and programs. Specifically, The Rehabilitation Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability in national work, employment practices of federal contractors, programs conducted by federal agencies, and programs receiving federal financial assistance.
Wide-ranging federal legislation exists to protect individuals against disability discrimination in the workplace and across multiple aspects of life.
Florida ADA Laws
In Florida, the ADA works in conjunction with the Florida Civil Rights Act to protect workers with disabilities across the state. Florida Statutes, Section 760 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on a physical or mental disability.
Florida laws and federal legislation also cover the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace, including work structure, physical configurations, job duties, routines, or work rules. Related laws include coverage under FMLA for up to 12 weeks off per year for certain health conditions and those targeting special education rights, housing and accessibility rights, disability benefits, and service animals.
WHAT DOES THE FLORIDA CIVIL RIGHTS ACT COVER?
The Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) of 1992 prohibits discrimination against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.
The FCRA covers workers employed with private and public employers with fifteen or more employees. This includes all levels of positions and many types of jobs and industries. While small employers with fewer than fifteen employees are not covered under the Act, and County and City Ordinances may apply to smaller employers.
In 2022, House Bill 7 2022 (HB 7) was passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by the Governor, taking into effect July 1, 2022. It amends the FCRA and the Florida Educational Equity Act and has the stated purpose of protecting individual freedoms and preventing discrimination in the workplace and public schools.
Regarding Florida workers, HB 7 provides specific details and limitations on language and concepts in training, instruction, certification, licensing, conditions of employment, or other required employment activities. This would primarily affect diversity or unconscious bias training.
Note: The updates to FCRA from HB 7 do not include language referring to disability. However, they focus on race, color, sex, or national origin in the context of discrimination in the workplace.
HOW DO YOU PROVE DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION?
An experienced and skilled employment law attorney will leverage the power of Florida disability laws and the ADA to prove a case of disability discrimination. First, the employee must meet the definition of having a disability as described by law. Then, the following steps will depend on your case. Have you been harassed at work due to a disability? Were you refused “reasonable accommodations,” such as a change in the work environment, that would not place an undue burden on a business?
Gathering and preserving relevant documentation relevant to a case of disability discrimination in the workplace is vital. This can include emails, memos, employment documentation, offensive images/photos/texts, requests for medical exams during the hiring process, or other types of records/recordings/documentation. Dates/times/details of what happened are also very helpful in proving disability discrimination.
Do not worry if you feel you need more documentation. You may have more than you think, and employee rights attorneys are skilled at working with documentation and building strong cases.
Varying strategies, including proving a hostile work environment, can be utilized to significant effect by your workplace rights attorney. Once the attorney thoroughly analyzes the details of what happened, they will determine the best strategy to hold your employer accountable.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TYPICAL REMEDIES TO A CASE OF DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE?
When you have a dedicated workplace rights attorney on your side, they will work diligently throughout every step of the case for you. Some of the typical remedies to a claim of disability discrimination include:
- Reinstatement to your job with all pay and benefits
- Compensatory damages
- Back pay from termination to the settlement or verdict
- Other compensation, including emotional or punitive damages
When dealing with disability discrimination in the workplace, having an experienced and skilled employee rights attorney is key to getting the best outcome in your case.
How to File Disability Discrimination Case
Typically, the first step in disability discrimination cases is to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is the federal agency that administers and works to resolve discrimination cases. The complaint (also known as a “charge of discrimination”) should include specific information, including:
- Employee’s name, address, date of birth, and phone number
- Company name, number of employees, address, and phone number
- Type of discrimination
- When the discrimination began and last occurred
Additional information that should also be included to build a strong case:
- Job duties and work history with the employer
- The harm that occurred as a result of the employer’s actions
- Any witnesses of the incident(s)
- Evidence of how your co-workers (who are not disabled) were treated better/differently than you
- Why the employer said they took the actions against you (ex: refusing to make accommodations, demoting or firing you, harassing you, etc.)
- Any other evidence that would serve to strengthen the case against your employer
Your disability discrimination attorney can help ensure that the EEOC claim includes the appropriate information, is comprehensive, and explains the situation clearly and convincingly.
Once the claim is filed, the EEOC will evaluate your case. You will be notified if they decide it is appropriate to move forward. EEOC mediation is often the next step. The EEOC mediation process is utilized to resolve disputes, where employers and employees conduct negotiations to decide on an outcome to a claim of discrimination. Your attorney works to speed up the mediation process and maximize your recovery at the mediation.
If necessary, your employee rights lawyer will fight for you in a court of law. Your employer will have their attorney, and you deserve legal representation to advocate for your rights to a safe and just workplace – whether in mediation or in court.
CONTACT A FLORIDA EMPLOYEE RIGHTS LAWYER TODAY
Contact an employee rights lawyer today if you have been discriminated against at the workplace due to a disability.
Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. handles Florida disability discrimination cases. We fight aggressively for our clients to hold employers who violate the ADA and Florida disability laws accountable for their actions.
Please Note: At the time this article was written, the information contained within it was current based on the prevailing law at the time. Laws and precedents are subject to change, so this information may not be up to date. Always speak with a law firm regarding any legal situation to get the most current information available.