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What kind of disabilities and medical conditions are protected from employment discrimination under the law?

California law defines a disability as any medical condition or disorder that limits an employee’s ability to work. A wide range of disabilities are protected from employment discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

The two main categories are physical disability and mental disability. The law also protects employees who have a medical condition. Medical conditions are those that are related to cancer or a genetic characteristic that could lead to the increased likelihood of developing a disease or disorder.

Physical disabilities which may be protected under law include but are not limited to diseases, bodily conditions, disfigurement and mobility impairments. Examples are loss of limbs, blindness, broken bones, heart disease, hypertension, epilepsy, back injuries and brain tumors.

Mental disabilities consist of psychological disorders such as mental retardation, learning disabilities, alcoholism, organic brain syndrome, depression or other conditions that require special education or related services. Compulsive gambling, kleptomania, sexual behavior disorders and others do not qualify for protection under the FEHA.

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees who are unable to perform the key tasks of their job due to a disability. They must also engage in an interactive process with the employee to discuss potential accommodations they can provide to enable the employee to do their job.

Examples of reasonable accommodation include extended leaves of absence, job restructuring, reassignment to a vacant position, modifying work schedules, modifying employer’s policies, altering when or how essential job functions are performed, buying tools or equipment to help the employee perform job tasks, or installing ramps in the workplace.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified employees who have disabilities in almost any aspect of employment. McCormack & Erlich has an extensive background helping people who have experienced disability discrimination on the job.

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