Employment Law: Know Your Disability Rights in Massachusetts

According to a recent U.S. Census, about 20 percent of Americans have a disability. Many Americans with disabilities are talented workers who are valuable additions to the workplace. However, sometimes employers and coworkers fail to recognize the value people with disabilities can bring to the workplace.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) is federal legislation designed to counteract this bias and protect the rights of the disabled in the workplace. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. A disability is defined broadly as any mental or physical impairment that limits at least one major life function. Further, people who have a history of having a disability or who are erroneously perceived as having a disability, such as people who have HIV, are also deemed to be disabled under the ADA.

Workers are deemed to be qualified to perform a job under the ADA, if they meet the educational and other requirements for the job and they can perform the job duties with or without reasonable accommodations. For instance, the ADA would prohibit an employer from failing to hire a visually-impaired clerical worker solely based on her disability, if she can perform her tasks adequately with a magnifying glass or other visual aid. Once hired, the ADA would prohibit the employer from other types of discrimination based on the disability, such as failing to promote the employee or paying her less than employees who are not disabled.

In Massachusetts, individuals with disabilities are further protected by Chapter 151B of the Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 151B is similar to the ADA, but has a broader reach. Chapter 151B covers employers with 6 or more employees, while the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Employees who have experienced discrimination must first file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for violations of the disabled persons protection statutes. Workers who have been discriminated against may be entitled to reinstatement, compensatory damages, front and back pay and other damages. It is highly recommended that such individuals hire an attorney experienced in employment law to help protect their rights and that they consult with an attorney as soon as possible after they have reason to believe they have been the victim of discrimination.

If you believe you have an employment claim, please call our office to discuss your case with an attorney.

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