Wrongful termination based on disability is the illegal dismissal of an employee because of a physical or mental impairment. This impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities, such as hearing, seeing, walking, speaking, breathing, thinking, or performing manual tasks. Both federal and state laws prohibit disability-based discrimination in the workplace.

Wrongful termination and the rights of the disabled

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that gives individuals with disabilities equal opportunities in the workforce. Under ADA, no employee who is qualified to do a job can be fired because he or she has a disability, has a history of a disability, or is regarded as being disabled. Nondisabled employees who are married or otherwise associated with a disabled individual are also protected by ADA.

The law gives qualified employees with disabilities the right to request reasonable accommodations at work to help them perform their job's essential functions. An employee can't be dismissed for requesting accommodation and can make the request at any time during employment. Accommodations may include the purchase or modification of equipment, addition of ramps to existing facilities, employment of sign language interpreters, and creation of flexible work schedules. The employer and employee generally work together to determine what adjustments are needed. An employer is required to make the accommodation as long as it doesn't cause an undue hardship to the business in terms of its difficulty or expense.

Filing a disability-based wrongful termination charge

All employers with over 15 employees are required to uphold ADA. If your employer meets this condition and you believe you were dismissed illegally, you may file a charge of discrimination with your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office, your state's human rights commission, or other appropriate state agency. There is no cost to file a charge of discrimination.

Charges should be filed with the EEOC as soon as possible but not more than 300 days after your dismissal. In states where a state or local discrimination law doesn't apply, charges should be filed to the EEOC within 180 days.

You don't need a lawyer to file a charge of discrimination; however, you may want to seek legal counsel if your case is more complex.

Once you have filed charges, the EEOC notifies your employer and starts an investigation. If the EEOC determines a violation hasn't occurred, your charge is dismissed and you may choose to file a private lawsuit. If the EEOC determines there was a violation, the agency may attempt to settle the claim informally, file a lawsuit, or give you the right to file a lawsuit on your own.

Additional resources:

The ADA-Your Employment Rights as an Individual with a Disability

A Guide for People with Disabilities Seeking Employment

Employment Law Information Network: Americans with Disabilities Act