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Working With a Disability - A Guide to Workers’ Rights

September 3 2021 - It is a fact that one in four adults in the United States suffer from some form of disability. This can present as a mild or minor impairment, such as restricted mobility, to a chronic disability, such as blindness or cognitive impairment.

In real terms, 61 million adult Americans live with some form of disability, and thus the rights and expectations of those individuals in the workplace is worthy of closer investigation.

The scale of the disability issue

The depth and complexity of the worker disability issue is far broader than the average person might realize. The fact that a broad range of potential impairments of varying degrees of debilitation exist, both physically, mentally and emotionally, raises significant questions as to the rights of those workers so affected.

A range of potential workplace scenarios are conjured by this issue, which similarly range from minor situations, such as a few days of downtime due to sick leave, to longer term concerns caused by a worker’s limitations or treatment regimen.

Regardless of the nature or extent of the disability, perhaps the most common and pertinent question is - Can your employer terminate you for performance issues caused by your disability?

The rights of the disabled person in the workplace

As it would be expected, federal law generally protects a person suffering any form of disability from discrimination in the workplace.

If a person is capable and qualified to do a particular job, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to employ or promote a person on the basis of a disability. Similarly it is unlawful for an employer to harass, demote, terminate or pay a worker less on account of their disability.

That being said, small scale private employers may, in some circumstances, be exempt from federal disability discrimination laws. If there is concern or doubt, referral to a registered employment law firm is recommended.

What form does disability discrimination take?

A breach of the rights described above is considered to be discrimination. Denial of an employment opportunity or a promotion, based upon a person’s disability is considered to be discrimination. Similarly, being paid a lesser amount compared to an ‘able’ worker carrying out a similar job may also be considered to be disability discrimination.

Other forms of discrimination typically encountered includes inappropriate behavior such as uncomplimentary or derogatory comments, jokes or gestures, directed at a person’s disability by employers, other staff or customers.

A person with any form of disability has a right to ask that an employer allow certain accommodations for their disability. In the event that this has not been requested, it is discriminatory for an employer to demand an employee to disclose or discuss their disability.


Given the sheer number of adult workers who are afflicted with some form of disability, it is not unusual or exceptional for a workplace to host a worker with a long or short term impairment.

Afflicted workers have a right to equitable non-discriminatory treatment and a right to reasonable accommodation for their degree of disability, to allow them an equal chance to succeed in the workplace.

For more specific advice, referral to a registered employment law firm is recommended.

What Color Is Your Parachute?

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2022: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
by Richard Nelson Bolles and Katherine Brooks
With more than 10 million copies sold in 28 countries, the world's most popular job-search book is updated for 2022. Katherine Brooks tailors the late Richard Bolles's long-trusted guidance with up-to-the-minute information and advice for today's job-hunters and career-changers.
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