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Mental Disability

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Employment Discrimination on Account of Mental Disability

This month, an out of state company paid $135,000 to a customer service representative of its telemarketing unit in Kennesaw, Ga, to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The company has denied any wrong doing while agreeing to the consent decree that also expects them to implement equal employment opportunity training and report and post anti-discriminatory notices.


The case was filed by an employee who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. She went on leave and wanted to extend her leave for additional treatment. Instead of being granted leave, she was fired.
This employee filed a suit against the company based on the Americans with Disabilities Act that states that employees cannot be discriminated against because of physical or mental disabilities. In such cases the onus is on the employer to make reasonable accommodations to enable the employee to carry out their functional duties. Such accommodations can include restructuring jobs, reassigning tasks, providing access facilities, modifying schedules, and redesigning tests.

In this case, the employer was unwilling to modify schedules to accommodate the employee’s need for additional leave.

Employment discrimination based on age, gender, or disabilities is prohibited in Georgia as well as under federal laws. In the state, such discrimination is covered by the Georgia Equal Employment for People with Disabilities Code and other related laws. While the federal law against discrimination of people with disabilities is part of the American with Disabilities Act, the actual enforcement authority is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Act clearly forbids discrimination on the basis of disabilities. However, there are certain phrases that provide scope for interpretation. For instance, the act mentions major life functions and major bodily functions. As such while a blind person is clearly disabled since they cannot perform a major life function – seeing, someone with partial vision problems will need legal help proving that they have a disability. The law requires that the disability “substantially limits” bodily functions such as digestion, immune system, the brain, and so on.

Someone’s eyes do not fall underneath these categories. The law against employment discrimination because of disability covers not just termination of employment but also wage discrimination, discrimination at the recruitment stage, and refusal to make reasonable accommodations. If someone is willing to complete the work at their home but cannot and perhaps should not be in the work place all day long as the rest of the employees are, they should be allowed to perform or given a home based opportunity if they want it.

If the work standards and productivity is maintained, an employer does not have too much to lose and the person with the disability can still be a productive member of society. It seems the Company is an ideal example here.

When a person feels that they have been discriminated against by their employer because of their disability, they should consult a disability lawyer to ensure that their rights are protected.

 


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