The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and its federal counterpart, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), have identified disability discrimination as one of their top priorities. Consequently, employers would be wise to take preventive steps to reduce their risk of liability, such as implementing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and training their employees about such policies.
In a nutshell, under state and federal law, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of disability in employment decisions such as hiring, promotion, compensation, discipline, discharge, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers have an obligation to engage in the interactive process and provide reasonable accommodations to a qualified individual with a disability, unless such accommodation would cause an undue hardship to the employer. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act’s significantly expanded definition of ‘disability,’ when faced with a request for an accommodation, the focus should not be about whether the employee is disabled. Instead, the focus should be on engaging in the interactive process, which is triggered when an employee asks for an accommodation or when an employer recognizes the need for an accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a modification or change to the workplace that enables an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job duties, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. This may include, for example, modifying work schedules, granting time off, making the workplace accessible by wheelchair, or providing an interpreter.
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