Finding and keeping your job can be a challenge when you have a disability. However, a temporary or permanent disability should not stop individuals from getting and retaining satisfying employment and living a full life. It is immoral and unlawful for employers to discriminate against disabled workers or refuse reasonable accommodations.
Discrimination at work or an unfair dismissal can have devastating consequences, with victims potentially facing significant emotional distress and an uncertain financial future. However, if you were fired due to your disability, you could have a case against your employer and seek compensation. Our experienced discrimination attorneys know how to fight back against unscrupulous employers and could help you get the justice and compensation you deserve. Contact Morgan & Morgan now for free legal advice.
What Qualifies as a Disability?
You qualify as disabled under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) if you have a mental or physical impairment that severely limits one or several major life activities. Major life activities include, among others:
- Hearing and seeing
- Performing manual tasks
- Personal care
- Bodily functions (digestion, circulation, and others)
Protections for Disabled Employees
Disabled workers enjoy protection under state and federal discrimination laws, similarly to other employees in a protected category based on their age, sex, race, or others. The ADA protects workers with a disability from discrimination in several areas, including transportation, public accommodations, and, importantly, employment. Disabled citizens are protected in the following employment-related activities and others:
- Pay and benefits
- Disciplinary actions
- Promotion and career advancement
In addition, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers with a disability, as long as the modifications do not create an undue hardship for the employer. Reasonable accommodations can include:
- Job tasks modification
- Modification of the work environment
- Providing reserved parking
- Allowing flexible work schedules
- Adjusting equipment or software
- Changing training materials
- Altering the way tests are performed
These and other applicable modifications allow the disabled individual to apply for a position, perform job functions, and enjoy equal employment opportunities available to employees without a disability.
Firing a Disabled Worker
There is a misconception among some employers and employees that it is not possible to fire a disabled worker. However, this is not the case. Employers can fire citizens with a disability, provided they do not wrongfully terminate the employee for a discriminatory reason.
When Can an Employer Lawfully Fire a Disabled Employee?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers can lawfully fire disabled employees if one of the following three circumstances apply:
1. The termination is not related to the individual’s disability
2. The employee fails to meet job requirements such as production standards or performance
3. The employee poses a threat to the workplace’s health and safety due to their disability
An employer can also potentially terminate a disabled individual if they cannot make reasonable accommodations for the employee. It is important to note that the ADA generally only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
If your employer fired you without a legitimate reason or failed to provide reasonable accommodations to help you perform your job, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Our experienced attorneys are committed to helping workers get justice. You could qualify for damages if your employer cannot show that they would have terminated you regardless of your disability.
Wrongful Terminations of Disabled Employees
A wrongful termination arises when a disabled individual is fired due to their disability. However, in some cases, employers try to cover their tracks after a wrongful dismissal. They may argue that they fired the employee for performance-related reasons, or non-adherence to company policies, for example. In these cases, having an experienced attorney by your side can be critical for proving a wrongful termination.
What Are Common Wrongful Termination Cases?
Consider seeking legal advice as soon as possible if you were fired in the following situations:
- Your employer denied a request for reasonable accommodations, and you were fired shortly afterward.
- You received a termination notice after revealing your disability.
- Your supervisor or employer made disrespectful comments about your disability.
- Your employer fired you based on the assumption that you cannot do your job due to a disability.
- Your employer treated you less favorably than non-disabled employees.
- You had to quit due to your employer or supervisor refusing to give you time off work for your disability.
Your Next Best Steps After a Wrongful Termination
If you want to file a wrongful termination lawsuit and pursue compensation, there are some steps you have to take.
File a Charge of Employment Discrimination
Before filing a lawsuit against your employer, you have to file a charge of discrimination with your state’s fair employment practices agency or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You will also have to act fast. Depending on the laws in your state, you might have only 180 days to file your discrimination charge.
Your state’s agency or the EEOC then typically investigates your case, tries to mediate, or, in extremely rare cases, files a lawsuit against your employer on your behalf.
However, once you have filed the charge, you can ask the EEOC for a "right to sue" letter. The notice confirms that you have filed a charge with the agency and gives you the right to file a lawsuit against your employer. It is crucial to note that you generally only have 90 days to file a suit after receiving this letter.
Gather Evidence of Discrimination
Since you can fire citizens with a disability, wrongly dismissed workers have to prove discrimination to have a case. Therefore, collecting evidence is critical. You can start by reviewing your employment contract if you have one. What are you entitled to according to the contract? What are your rights? Has your employer made any promises, for example, regarding accommodations? Have those promises materialized during your employment?
If you were not told why you were terminated, ask your employer for the reason. You should also ask to see your personnel file as it could include important details for your case. Ensure to save all digital communication between you and your employer, such as emails, text messages, and voicemails. Make sure to confirm all agreements regarding your termination, such as severance payments and others, in writing.
You should also try and find coworkers who may have witnessed your employer’s wrongful conduct and discrimination against you. While it can be tough to find a coworker willing to speak out, having witnesses strengthens your case. Moreover, you may not be the only one who suffered a wrongful dismissal at your workplace.
Contact an Employment Lawyer
If you were fired, your best first step can be getting in touch with our employment lawyers, who can determine whether you have a case. An attorney at Morgan & Morgan can also advise you on the best course of action, help you file an EEOC charge, and initiate a lawsuit against your employer. Most employers have experience with handling discrimination lawsuits, and having a seasoned attorney by your side could help you get the compensation you deserve.
Damages Disabled Citizens Could Recover
If you win a wrongful termination case, your employer could be forced to reinstate your job. However, understandably, victims of discrimination might not wish to return to the job where they suffered discrimination. However, you could also receive the following financial damages, depending on your case:
- Back pay
- Salary adjustment
- Overtime pay, commission, and tips
- Out-of-pocket losses
- Attorney’s fees and legal expenses
- Future income loss (if you are unlikely to find a job for some time)
- Awards for emotional distress
In rare cases, wrongfully terminated employees could also receive punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish an employer for any wrongdoing or illegal actions.
The Time for Filing a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit May Be Limited
Do not wait too long to seek legal advice if you were fired unfairly. Timely action can be critical for the success of your case. Workers can typically only file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days after the discriminatory act or wrongful dismissal took place. In some cases, the period to file a charge could be longer. However, there could also be state-specific deadlines for filing a claim. Our discrimination attorneys can ensure to file all the necessary paperwork within the critical deadlines, so you do not risk losing your rights to legal recourse and compensation.