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Can a California employer fire a disabled worker?

On Behalf of | Jun 4, 2024 | Employment Law

California law protects disabled workers from discrimination. The Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees with disabilities.

Employers cannot fire an employee just because of a disability.

When termination is allowed

Employers can legally terminate a disabled worker in some situations. If the employee cannot perform the basic functions of their job, even with reasonable accommodations, the employer may have grounds for termination. Reasonable accommodations are changes or adjustments to the job or work environment that help a disabled employee perform their duties. Examples include modified work schedules, special equipment or changes to the workspace.

The interactive process

Employers must interact with employees to determine necessary accommodations. This process involves discussing the employees’ needs and finding solutions that enable them to work effectively. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations may result in a violation of the law.

Limits to accommodations

There are limits to what employers must do. If providing an accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer, they may not have to provide it. Undue hardship means significant difficulty or expense for the employer. For example, a small business might not be able to afford expensive equipment or extensive modifications to the workplace.

Legitimate reasons for termination

An employer can terminate a disabled employee for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. These reasons include poor performance, misconduct or other issues unrelated to the disability. The key is that the termination must be for valid reasons, not the disability itself.

Legal recourse for unfair termination

Disabled workers who believe they have been unfairly terminated can file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The DFEH investigates claims of discrimination and can take legal action against employers who violate the law. Workers can also file a lawsuit in civil court.

While California law provides strong protections for disabled workers, employers may terminate them under specific circumstances. Both employers and employees need to understand their rights and responsibilities to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.