Disability Discrimination in the Iowa Workplace

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Posted by Laura Schultes

If you or a loved one have a significant health condition that impacts your ability to work, there are some important workplace rights that you should know about.

Many people have heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. It is a landmark federal law Congress passed in 1990 and has added to since that created a wide range of protections for disabled individuals, including within the workplace. The ADA not only prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled individuals but also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the known disabilities of their employees.

The Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRC) is a state civil rights law that provides protections very similar to the ADA, in addition to protections for non-disabled individuals as well. Both of these laws apply to individuals with disabilities.

What Qualifies as a Disability in the Iowa Workplace?

It is important to know that the word “disability” includes many different types of health conditions.  Many people who have impairments that significantly alter or limit their day-to-day activities may not consider themselves as being disabled. However, what qualifies as a disability under state and federal law is far broader than most people’s preconceptions of what it means to be disabled.

Generally, an employee is considered disabled and protected by these laws if the employee has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

The phrase “major life activity” is intended to be broad in scope and includes activities ranging from walking and standing, to using your hands and arms, to having normal bodily functions, to being able to interact with other people. Individuals who experience these kinds of limitations are protected under federal and state law.

However, the law also protects individuals who may not actually be disabled but instead have an employer who thinks or assumes that they are disabled because:

  • They have a record of having a disabling impairment, or
  • They are simply regarded as having a disabling impairment because of false stereotypes regarding what individuals with certain impairments or conditions can or cannot do.

What it means to be disabled under the ADA and ICRC can involve complicated issues of law and fact. However, the definition is intended to be straightforward: if an impairment significantly limits a person’s ability to live his or her life, the impairment is a disability.

How Does the Law Protect Me as an Iowa Worker?

Both Iowa and Federal Law make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because that employee is disabled or is believed to be disabled. This includes protection from discrimination in all areas of employment: job application and hiring, termination or firing, promotions or career advancement, and compensation.

Do I Have an Iowa Disability Discrimination Case?

If you believe that your employer made an employment decision that negatively impacted your employment because you have a disability, or your employer wrongly thinks you have a disability, you may have a disability discrimination case.

Both Iowa and Federal law also place an obligation on an employer to reasonably accommodate individuals with disabilities. The range of potential reasonable accommodations can vary greatly from one employer to the next or from one job or position to the next. It is very dependent on the unique facts of each employee’s disability and work setting.

An employer is obligated under the law to engage in a dialogue with a disabled employee about accommodations that might allow an employee to succeed in his or her job.

This might include:

  • Special equipment at your workstation, such as a stand-up desk, an ergonomic keyboard, a headset for your phone, a stool to sit on at a workbench, or other physical adjustments;
  • Modifications to work schedules, including reduced hours; different start and stop times; additional times for breaks;
  • Leave from work for a clearly defined and reasonable amount of time;
  • Adjustments to communication strategies such as receiving instruction in writing versus orally;
  • Additional training or coaching to learn the aspects of the job

Keep in mind that what works for one employee and employer may not fit a different employee and employer. It is worthwhile to spend some time truly thinking creatively about how your health condition affects you, what your job requires, and what adjustments would truly help you to succeed.

If you are a disabled employee and feel like your rights are being violated at work, contact RSH Legal today at 1-319-519-4312.

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