What if an Employer Treats an Employee as Disabled When the Employee isn’t Disabled?

Most people know that an employer can’t fire a disabled person in California if the worker can perform the essential functions of the job. But can a company fire an employee it believes to be disabled, but isn’t actually disabled? In other words, may your boss fire you if he believes you’re disabled, even when you’re not? No, they can’t. This is called “perceived disability” and hopefully the following article will shed some light on this sparsely used term.

The Legal Foundation of “Perceived Disability” in California

CA law is very clear that terminating an employee because of a disability, when the employe can perform the essential functions of the job, is unlawful. Lawyers call this disability discrimination. But the law also addresses the odd scenario when someone doesn’t have a disability, but the employer thinks they do. A quick look at the CA Code of regulations makes it clear:

California Code of Regulations § 7293.6. (5) A “Perceived Disability” means being “Regarded as,” “Perceived as” or “Treated as” Having a Disability. Perceived disability includes: (A) Being regarded or treated by the employer or other entity covered by this subchapter as having, or having had, any mental or physical condition or adverse genetic information that makes achievement of a major life activity difficult; or (B) Being subjected to an action prohibited by this subchapter, including nonselection, demotion, termination, involuntary transfer or reassignment, or denial of any other term, condition, or privilege of employment, based on an actual or perceived physical or mental disease, disorder, or condition, or cosmetic disfigurement, anatomical loss, adverse genetic information or special education disability, or its symptom, such as taking medication, whether or not the perceived condition limits, or is perceived to limit, a major life activity.

Example of Perceived Disability

One example of perceived disability would be if an employee, Jimmy, worked for ACME Company and after ten years of service he receives a misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive, degenerative disease of the nervous system. Jimmy tells his boss. Obviously, Jimmy is still able to perform all the essential functions of his job, but immediately after telling his employer, his direct supervisor writes Jimmy up for being “crazy” and “weird.” Furthermore, Jimmy is required to report to his direct supervisor after every doctor’s visit. A month or two later his boss terminates him for “not fitting in.” This is illegal.

Usually the discrimination is not this obvious. But if you’ve been fired because your employer believed you were disabled, but you were not disabled, you may have a claim for disability discrimination under CA’s Fair Employment & Housing laws. Contact our office for a free consultation.

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