It is unlawful for a California employer to discriminate refuse employment to or to terminate an employee on the basis of a mental or physical disability or medical condition. Other discriminatory practices include demotion, refusing to train a prospective employee for employment, denial of compensation, discrimination as regards privileges or employment and other conduct that may constitute illegal disability discrimination in the workplace.
The law that governs mental disability employment discrimination (as well as discrimination based on a medical condition) is the Fair Employment and Housing Act, also known as FEHA.
Under FEHA physical disabilities, mental disabilities, and mental conditions are defined broadly and include both actual disabilities and conditions, and situations where an employer perceives that an employee has a disability or condition.
For a disabled California worker to establish a mental disability discrimination claim, he must first show that his mental disability limits a major life activity. If a psychological or mental disorder precludes or renders difficult participation in major life activity, this would meet the requirement.
What Mental Disabilities, Disorders or Conditions Qualify?
Among the recognized mental illnesses are Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, cerebral palsy, clinical depression, Down syndrome, emotional illness, mental illness, mental retardation, obsessive-compulsive disorder, organic brain syndrome, particular learning disabilities that necessitate specialized education or like services, paranoia, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, Tourette’s disorder. This is not an exhaustive list. There may be other mental illnesses. The key issue is whether the mental illness limits your ability to conduct a major life activity.
Certain compulsions, such as gambling, sex addiction, drug addiction, alcoholism and kleptomania (the compulsion to steal things), do not comprise mental disabilities or conditions that can form the basis of a discrimination claim.
Employee Must Still be Able to Carry Out Essential Work Duties
In order for a California employee to bring about a successful disability discrimination claim, the employee must have been able to perform his or her essential work duties under reasonable accommodation for his or her disability.
Essential duties are those which are part and parcel of the job position. This does not include marginal job duties, but, rather, functions that are integral to the position of employment. California employers are legally required to make reasonable accommodations for a known mental or physical handicap or disability.
A California employer who is aware of an employee’s disability is under an affirmative duty to advise his or her employee that there are other suitable job opportunities with said employer. The employer must also try to determine whether the employee is qualified or has an interest in those positions.