Most people realize that it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of your actual disability. However, employees may not realize that it is also unlawful to discriminate because an employer thinks you have a disability, even if you do not have what the law might consider being a disability. This type of discrimination is based on a “perceived disability.”
The ADA generally defines disability as actually having a disability that inhibits a major life activity. It also includes those who have a history of disability. Finally, it also covers those who are believed to have a physical or mental impairment, even if that impairment may not be recognized as a disability under the law.
The result is that the ADA also protects people who may not be disabled under the definition of the ADA—but an employer thinks that person is disabled.
The ADA protects those who are perceived as disabled for several reasons. First, if someone is perceived as disabled, they may still suffer from stereotypes, myths, and fears that are associated with being disabled, such as that those workers who have disabilities are somehow less capable than other people.
Extending the ADA to those perceptions also generally discourages employers from treating anyone differently who may be disabled, even if they are unsure of their status as a person with a disability. It also allows employees to refrain from explicitly telling employers that they have a disability if they do not want to do that.
Some perceived disability cases deal with situations where someone might have the start of what could be a severe issue in the future. Hearing and vision are good examples of these situations.
For example, imagine you have hearing problems right now, but your hearing is not bad enough today to inhibit how your work. Suppose your employer takes adverse employment action (termination, demotion, moving job duties, failing to promote, etc.) because they expect that your hearing will get worse. In that case, that is an example of discrimination based on a perceived disability.
If you think your employer has taken negative action toward you because they think you are disabled, even if you are not, you may have a legal claim. Contact the team at Goldman & Ehrlich to learn more about your legal options: 312-332-6733.