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Disability discrimination issues

Indiana employers who are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act can face repercussions for the adverse treatment of a disabled employee. The law provides protections for workers with temporary or permanent physical or mental disabilities from being treated negatively due to the impairment. Additionally, employers are prohibited from treating individuals negatively based on a belief of impairment regardless of whether such an issue is real or only suspected. Further, an individual may not be the object of discrimination because of a relationship to a disabled person. Reasonable accommodations must be made unless there is undue expense or difficulty for the employer in doing so.

Protections for employees cover all areas of employment, including benefits, promotions, training, layoffs, hiring, and firing. Workplace disability discrimination can include harassment or behavior that involves offensive treatment related to an individual's disability. It is important to recognize that teasing or inadvertent comments about a disability are not typically considered to be harassment. Behavior that is severe or frequent enough to create a work environment that is hostile, however, may be construed as such. This could come from a supervisor or another employee, but it could also stem from the behavior of an employer's clients or vendors.

Misunderstandings may arise over the issue of reasonable accommodation. An employee may view an employer's refusal to make accommodations as disability discrimination. However, expensive changes in the work environment may construe a hardship for some employers. Refusal to reasonably accommodate an employee may not be justified just because there is a cost. At the same time, an employer's efforts to accommodate an employee may not have to exactly meet the requested modifications in a work environment.

An employee who perceives that there is a discrimination issue in the workplace may worry about adverse treatment for reporting the concern. A lawyer may help in evaluating the situation to determine whether that perception is correct, offering direction for reporting or rectifying the issue.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Disability Discrimination", November 29, 2014

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