Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Learn about what activities are considered disability discrimination in the workplace and how your rights are protected by the MCAD.

Disability discrimination is illegal under the Anti-discrimination laws of Massachusetts.

The Law

In 1983, the Massachusetts Legislature amended the Fair Employment Practices Law to prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of handicap. The guidelines below are intended to assist employers, labor organizations, employment agencies and persons with handicaps, and their lawyers, in understanding what employment practices are lawful or unlawful and what steps must be taken to accommodate handicapped persons. The standards governing employment practices with regard to handicapped persons are part of the statutory and regulatory framework governing fair employment practices under Mass. Gen. L. ch. 151B and Mass. Regs. Code tit. 804, § 3.00 et. seq. These guidelines are issued pursuant to Mass. Gen. L. ch. 151B, section 2.

Your Rights

A person with a disability under law is defined as a person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. 

An employer must make reasonable accommodations to allow a disabled person to work. A "reasonable accommodation" is any adjustment or modification to a job (or the way a job is done), employment practice, or work environment which makes it possible for a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the position. 

In order to be protected, a person with a disability must be qualified. If you can do the essential functions of a job, you cannot be discriminated against because of your disability. The law additionally protects people who are discriminated against based upon other people's belief that they are disabled, even if they are not disabled.

Your Responsibilities

An employer may require a person who needs a reasonable accommodation to provide documentation of her/his disability and the need for the reasonable accommodation. Although an employer does not necessarily have to provide the exact accommodation requested, failure to provide a reasonable accommodation may violate the law.

Once an employer is on notice of need for accommodation, they should initiate an interactive dialogue. This process should identify potential reasonable accommodations to overcome employee’s particular limitations.

An employer does not have to provide an accommodation if it would cause undue hardship. An employer is also permitted to establish reasonable qualification standards for applicants and employees.

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