Rights and Responsibilities

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that makes it illegal for covered employers to discriminate against (to treat unfairly or unequally) people with disabilities. This includes all areas of employment, such as interviewing, hiring, firing, training, promotions, and benefits. Covered employers are also required by law to give you reasonable accommodations if you need them to be successful at your job. A covered employer is an employer with 15 or more employees.

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

California's definition of a disability is broader than the federal standards, and the state disability laws and rules provide employees more protections than the federal ADA, including employees of smaller companies. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), if it is proven that you have been discriminated against, you have the right to a solution that will place you in the position you would have been in if the discrimination had never happened. This can mean getting rehired, back pay, or reasonable accommodations; your employer might also have to pay your lawyer's fees.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The ADA doesn’t apply to federal government jobs. Instead, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applies to federal employment. The Rehabilitation Act is almost identical to the ADA in its protections. Like the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability and requires you to be given reasonable accommodations so that you can have an equal opportunity to apply for employment, do your job functions, and have access to the benefits of employment.

Requesting Accommodations

To request an accommodation, you’ll need to take a few steps:

  1. You need to disclose your disability to your employer. You disclose your disability when you let your employer know that you have a disability. You need to disclose this information to your human resources manager or your supervisor. You don’t need to disclose your disability to anybody else in the workplace.
  2. You can disclose your disability and request your accommodation in person, in writing, or both. To do it in writing can be as simple as sending an email to the appropriate person. You don’t have to write a long, formal letter. It’s a good idea to request your accommodation in writing, because if your accommodation request is denied or delayed, you’ll have a written record showing what you requested and when you did so.
  3. Give ideas for accommodations. Your employer may have other ideas as well. Your employer must offer reasonable accommodations, but not necessarily give you the specific accommodations you request if there are other more convenient or less expensive accommodations that will work.

You can learn more detailed information about accommodations in the DB101 article on Job Supports and Accommodations. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) also has a lot of information about what types of accommodations exist and how to request them.

Not All Accommodations Are Reasonable

An employer does not have to give you the exact accommodation you want if it is too costly or too difficult to offer for business or operational reasons. For instance, if you have a job as a security guard, your essential function is to make people sign in when they enter the building and watch the cameras. Taking long and frequent breaks throughout your shift would not be a reasonable accommodation because it is an essential function of the job to be physically present when the building is open.


When you get a job, you are the person who is most responsible for making sure your job goes well and, if it is not going well, for asking your employer for accommodations or assistance. Your employer is responsible for making sure to follow the ADA, so if there is a problem, you should usually start with asking your employer for accommodations or assistance. If you believe that a coworker or supervisor is not respecting your rights, you need to make sure your rights are respected by reporting concerns to your employer. Making sure your rights are respected is also called self-advocacy.

Self-advocacy doesn’t actually mean you have to do everything by yourself. Your family and friends can give you support. At some large companies, there may even be organized groups of disabled employees.

Where to File a Complaint

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your disability, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General Civil Rights Section, or the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). You must first file a charge of discrimination with one of these agencies before you can file a lawsuit. It is often much better, faster, and easier if you can work things out by talking with your employer. However, you are not required to first use your employer’s internal complaint procedures before you file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, Calfiornia Office of the Attorney General, or the CRD.

Legal Resources

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