The governing body of Federal law regarding California disability discrimination is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a minimum standard, which means that individual states are able to further adjust or change their individual laws regarding disability. California disability discrimination law is unique because it takes a much broader approach to the word “disability.” This means that California recognizes a lot more illnesses, injuries, conditions, and diseases as qualifying for disability status than Federal law.
California law states describes a disability as a condition that limits one or more major life activities. Because working is considered a major life activity, any condition that affects an individual's ability to work may be considered a disability under California law. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) recognizes individuals as “disabled” if they have a physical or mental condition that limits one or more major life activities, or they are incorrectly treated as having a disability, regardless of whether or not they actually have an impairment. There are three categories of disabilities: physical disabilities, mental disabilities, and medical conditions. Physical disabilities include physiological disease, disorders, conditions, and cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss that affects one or more of the following body systems: neurological, immunological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin and endocrine systems. Mental disabilities may include conditions such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, certain learning disabilities, or other mental or psychological disorder or conditions that require special education or related services.
California disability law is not concerned with an individual's ability to perform alternate jobs; they only need to be unable to perform the regular duties of the particular job they are pursuing. Furthermore, California law makes this determination without looking at mitigating factors like medication, assistive devices, reasonable accommodation, etc. An example of a mitigating factor would be the use of glasses to correct one's vision. Even though an individual can correct their vision to near perfect with glasses, the law would still consider the bad vision a disability, as they would not be able to see properly without glasses as the mitigating factor. FEHA also ignores mitigating factors when determining whether a condition is a disability. This creates a system that works in favor of employees.
There are some conditions, however, that do not count as disabilities. These are sexual behavior disorders including but not limited to pedophilia, exhibitionism, or voyeurism. Also not covered are compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, or psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from illegal drugs.
Another key aspect of California disability discrimination law is the interactive process between employers and employees. The Fair Employment and Housing Commission focuses their evaluation of disability cases on whether the employer provided or attempted to provide the disabled employee with a reasonable accommodation. The interactive process is an open line of communication between employer and employee, where the parties work together to develop assistive measures for best accommodating an employee's disability. The result is called a reasonable accommodation, which enables a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In order to qualify as a proper accommodation, the FEHA mentions that any adjustment made must be effective in overcoming the limitation. This accommodation could come in the form of time taken off to see a doctor, more frequent breaks, extra time to complete tasks, etc. It is important to keep in mind that the FEHA does not expect disabled employees to be accommodated without regard for the burden placed on an employer. Instead, the FEHA uses an undue hardship standard, which is considered whenever there is a mention of a reasonable accommodation.
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