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Disabled Protected in Small Businesses

The California Supreme Court ruled last month that the state's protection for the disabled under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is far greater than that provided by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Court unanimously ruled that, since 1992, FEHA protects an employee whose condition simply "limits" a major life activity. This is broader than the ADA under which an employee must have an impairment that "substantially limits" a major life activity.

Cases under ADA have been dismissed prior to trial because inclusion of the term "substantially limits" has been interpreted to require a more significant degree of limitation on major life activities. The elimination of the word "substantially" from the California law in 1992 made it significantly easier to establish a disability under California law.

What does this mean to small employers with 5-14 employees?

Employers who were exempt from ADA (which covers employers with 15/more employees), may not be exempt un FEHA, which covers employers with 5 or more employees.

What should you do?

  • Take all claims of disability discrimination and all requests for reasonable accommodation seriously.
  • Review and revise policies to make certain they conform to state law and not the federal ADA.
  • Train managers and supervisors on the state definitions of disability.

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