California Disability Discrimination Law In California

The following statements appear in the California Code of Regulations governing disability discrimination in the workplace. By reading this statement, potential employees experiencing disability issues at work can better frame their telephone call to the Employment Lawyers Group.

The Fair Employment and Housing Commission is committed to ensuring each individual employment opportunities commensurate with his or her abilities. They wrote regulations designed to ensure discrimination-free access to employment opportunities notwithstanding any individual’s actual or perceived disability or medical condition; to preserve a valuable pool of experienced, skilled employees; and to strengthen our economy by keeping people working who would otherwise require public assistance. The regulations are to be broadly construed to protect applicants and employees from discrimination due to an actual or perceived physical or mental disability or medical condition that is disabling, potentially disabling or perceived to be disabling or potentially disabling.

The definition of “disability” in therefore broadly construed in favor of expansive coverage by the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).

The primary focus in cases brought under the FEHA should be whether employers and other covered entities have provided reasonable accommodation to applicants and employees with disabilities, whether all parties have complied with their obligations to engage in the interactive process and whether discrimination has occurred, not whether the individual meets the definition of disability, which should not require extensive analysis.

Here is the official definition of disability under California Regulations pertaining to disability in employment:

“Disability” shall be broadly construed to mean and include any of the following definitions:


(1) “Mental Disability,” as defined at Government Code section 12926, includes, but is not limited to, having any mental or psychological disorder or condition that limits a major life activity. “Mental Disability” includes, but is not limited to, emotional or mental illness, intellectual or cognitive disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”), organic brain syndrome, or specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and chronic or episodic conditions such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, post- traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

(2) “Physical Disability,” as defined at Government Code section 12926, includes, but is not limited to, having any anatomical loss, cosmetic disfigurement, physiological disease, disorder or condition that does both of the following:

  1. affects one or more of the following body systems: neurological; immunological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; circulatory; skin; and endocrine; and
  2. limits a major life activity.
  3. “Disability” includes, but is not limited to, deafness, blindness, partially or completely missing limbs, mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, cerebral palsy, and chronic or episodic conditions such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, epilepsy, seizure disorder, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and heart disease.

(3) A “special education” disability is any other recognized health impairment or mental or psychological disorder not described in section 7293.6, subdivisions (d)(1) or (d)(2), of this subchapter, that requires or has required in the past special education or related services. A special education disability may include a “specific learning disability,” manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. A specific learning disability can include conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. A special education disability does not include special education or related services unrelated to a health impairment or mental or psychological disorder, such as those for English language acquisition by persons whose first language was not English.

(4) A “Record or History of Disability” includes previously having, or being misclassified as having, a record or history of a mental or physical disability or special education health impairment of which the employer or other covered entity is aware.

(5) A “Perceived Disability” means being “Regarded as,” “Perceived as” or “Treated as” Having a Disability. Perceived disability includes:


  1. Being regarded or treated by the employer or other entity covered by this subchapter as having, or having had, any mental or physical condition or adverse genetic information that makes achievement of a major life activity difficult; or
  2. Being subjected to an action prohibited by this subchapter, including non- selection, demotion, termination, involuntary transfer or reassignment, or denial of any other term, condition, or privilege of employment, based on an actual or perceived physical or mental disease, disorder, or condition, or cosmetic disfigurement, anatomical loss, adverse genetic information or special education disability, or its symptom, such as taking medication, whether or not the perceived condition limits, or is perceived to limit, a major life activity.

(6) A “Perceived Potential Disability” includes being regarded, perceived, or treated by the employer or other covered entity as having, or having had, a physical or mental disease, disorder, condition or cosmetic disfigurement, anatomical loss, adverse genetic information or special education disability that has no present disabling effect, but may become a mental or physical disability or special education disability.

(7) “Medical condition” is a term specifically defined at Government Code section 12926, to mean either:


  1. any cancer-related physical or mental health impairment from a diagnosis, record or history of cancer; or
  2. a “genetic characteristic,” as defined at Government Code section 12926. “Genetic characteristics” means:

1) Any scientifically or medically identifiable gene or chromosome, or combination or alteration of a gene or chromosome, or any inherited characteristic that may derive from a person or the person’s family member,

2) that is known to be a cause of a disease or disorder in a person or the person’s offspring, or that is associated with a statistically increased risk of development of a disease or disorder, though presently not associated with any disease or disorder symptoms.

(8) A “Disability” is also any definition of “disability” used in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), and as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (Pub. L. No. 110–325) and the regulations adopted pursuant thereto, that would result in broader protection of the civil rights of individuals with a mental or physical disability or medical condition than provided by the FEHA. If so, the broader ADA protections or coverage shall be deemed incorporated by reference into, and shall prevail over conflicting provisions of, the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s definition of disability.

(9) “Disability” does not include:

  1. excluded conditions listed in the Government Code section 12926 definitions of mental and physical disability. These conditions are compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, or psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from the current unlawful use of controlled substances or other drugs, and “sexual behavior disorders,” as defined at section 7293.6, subdivision (q), of this subchapter; or
  2. conditions that are mild, which do not limit a major life activity, as determined on a case-by-case basis. These excluded conditions have little or no residual effects, such as the common cold; seasonal or common influenza; minor cuts, sprains, muscle aches, soreness, bruises, or abrasions; non-migraine headaches, and minor and non-chronic gastrointestinal disorders.
  3. “Essential job functions” means the fundamental job duties of the employment position the applicant or employee with a disability holds or desires.

(1) A job function may be considered essential for any of several reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:


  1. The function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function.
  2. The function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed.
  3. The function may be highly specialized, so that the incumbent in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function.

(2) Evidence of whether a particular function is essential includes, but is not limited to, the following:


  1. The employer’s or other covered entity’s judgment as to which functions are essential.
  2. Accurate, current written job descriptions.
  3. The amount of time spent on the job performing the function.
  4. The legitimate business consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function.
  5. Job descriptions or job functions contained in a collective bargaining agreement.
  6. The work experience of past incumbents in the job.
  7. The current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.
  8. Reference to the importance of the performance of the job function in prior performance reviews.

(3) “Essential functions” do not include the marginal functions of the position. “Marginal functions” of an employment position are those that, if not performed, would not eliminate the need for the job or that could be readily performed by another employee or that could be performed in an alternative way.

  • (c) “Family member,” for purposes of discrimination on the basis of a genetic characteristic or genetic information, includes the individual’s relations from the first to fourth degree. This would include children, siblings, half-siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, great aunts and uncles, first cousins, children of first cousins, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents.
  • (d) “Genetic information,” as defined at Government Code section 12926, means genetic information derived from an individual’s or the individual’s family members’ genetic tests, receipt of genetic services, participation in genetic services clinical research or the manifestation of a disease or disorder in an individual’s family members.

(e) “Health care provider” means either:

  1. a medical or osteopathic doctor, physician, or surgeon, licensed in California or in another state or country, who directly treats or supervises the treatment of the applicant or employee; or
  2. a marriage and family therapist or acupuncturist, licensed in California or in another state or country, or any other persons who meet the definition of “others capable of providing health care services” under FMLA and its implementing regulations, including podiatrists, dentists, clinical psychologists, optometrists, chiropractors, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, clinical social workers, physician assistants; or
  3. a health care provider from whom an employer, other covered entity, or a group health plan’s benefits manager will accept medical certification of the existence of a health condition to substantiate a claim for benefits.
  • (f) “Interactive process,” as set forth more fully at California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 7294.0, means timely, good faith communication between the employer or other covered entity and the applicant or employee or, when necessary because of the disability or other circumstances, his or her representative to explore whether or not the applicant or employee needs reasonable accommodation for the applicant’s or employee’s disability to perform the essential functions of the job, and, if so, how the person can be reasonably accommodated.
  • (g) “Job-Related,” as used in sections 7294.1, 7294.2 and 7294.3, means tailored to assess the employee’s ability to carry out the essential functions of the job or to determine whether the employee poses a danger to the employee or others due to disability.
  • (h) “Major Life Activities” shall be construed broadly and include physical, mental, and social activities, especially those life activities that affect employability or otherwise present a barrier to employment or advancement.
  1. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.
  2. Major life activities include the operation of major bodily functions, including functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions. Major bodily functions include the operation of an individual organ within a body system.
  3. An impairment “limits” a major life activity if it makes the achievement of the major life activity difficult.
  • (A) Whether achievement of the major life activity is “difficult” is an individualized assessment which may consider what most people in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty, what members of the individual’s peer group can perform with little or no difficulty, and/or what the individual would be able to perform with little or no difficulty in the absence of disability.
  • (B) Whether an impairment limits a major life activity will usually not require scientific, medical, or statistical analysis. Nothing in this paragraph is intended, however, to prohibit the presentation of scientific, medical, or statistical evidence, where appropriate.
  • (C) “Limits” shall be determined without regard to mitigating measures or reasonable accommodations, unless the mitigating measure itself limits a major life activity.
  • (D) Working is a major life activity, regardless of whether the actual or perceived working limitation affects a particular employment or class or broad range of employments.
  • (E) An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would limit a major life activity when active.
  • (i) “medical or psychological examination” is a procedure or test performed by a health care provider that seeks or obtains information about an individual’s physical or mental disabilities or health.
  • (j) “Mitigating measure” is a treatment, therapy, or device which eliminates or reduces the limitation(s) of a disability. Mitigating measures include, but are not limited to:
  • (1) Medications; medical supplies, equipment, or appliances; low-vision devices (defined as devices that magnify, enhance, or otherwise augment a visual image, but not including ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses); prosthetics, including limbs and devices; hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other implantable hearing devices; mobility devices; oxygen therapy equipment and supplies; and assistive animals, such as guide dogs.

    (2) Use of assistive technology or devices, such as wheelchairs, braces, and canes.

    (3) “Auxiliary aids and services,” which include:

    • (A) qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing disabilities such as text pagers, captioned telephone, video relay TTY and video remote interpreting;
    • (B) qualified readers, taped texts, or other effective methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals with visual disabilities such as video magnification, text-to-speech and voice recognition software, and related scanning and OCR technologies;
    • (C) acquisition or modification of equipment or devices; and
    • (D) other similar services and actions.

    (4) Learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.

    (5) Surgical interventions, except for those that permanently eliminate a disability.

    (6) Psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, or physical therapy.

    (7) Reasonable accommodations.

    1. (k) “Qualified Individual”, for purposes of disability discrimination under California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 7293.7, is an applicant or employee who has the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position.
    2. (l) “Reasonable accommodation” is:

    (1) modifications or adjustments that are:

    1. (A) effective in enabling an applicant with a disability to have an equal opportunity to be considered for a desired job, or
    2. (B) effective in enabling an employee to perform the essential functions of the job the employee holds or desires, or
    3. (C) effective in enabling an employee with a disability to enjoy equivalent benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by similarly situated employees without disabilities.

    Examples of Reasonable Accommodation. Reasonable accommodation may include, but are not limited to, such measures as:


    1. Making existing facilities used by applicants and employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. This may include, but is not limited to, providing accessible break rooms, restrooms, training rooms, or reserved parking places; acquiring or modifying furniture, equipment or devices; or making other similar adjustments in the work environment;

    2. Allowing applicants or employees to bring assistive animals to the work site;

    3. Transferring an employee to a more accessible worksite;

    4. Providing assistive aids and services such as qualified readers or interpreters to an applicant or employee;

    5. Job Restructuring. This may include, but is not limited to, reallocation or redistribution of non-essential job functions in a job with multiple responsibilities;

    6. Providing a part-time or modified work schedule;

    7. Permitting an alteration of when and/or how an essential function is performed;

    8. Providing an adjustment or modification of examinations, training materials or policies;

    9. Modifying an employer policy;

    10. Modifying supervisory methods (e.g., dividing complex tasks into smaller parts);

    11. Providing additional training;

    12. Permitting an employee to work from home;

    13. Providing a paid or unpaid leave for treatment and recovery, consistent with section 7293.9, subdivision (c);

    14. Providing a reassignment to a vacant position, consistent with section 7293.9, subdivision (d); and

    15. other similar accommodations.

    16. “Sexual behavior disorders,” as used in this subchapter, refers to pedophilia, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.

    17. “Undue hardship” means, with respect to the provision of an accommodation, an action requiring significant difficulty or expense incurred by an employer or other covered entity, when considered under the totality of the circumstances in light of the following factors:

    (1) the nature and net cost of the accommodation needed under this subchapter, taking into consideration the availability of tax credits and deductions, and/or outside funding;

    (2) the overall financial resources of the facilities involved in the provision of the reasonable accommodations, the number of persons employed at the facility, and the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of these accommodations upon the operation of the facility, including the impact on the ability of other employees to perform their duties and the impact on the facility’s ability to conduct business;

    (3) the overall financial resources of the employer or other covered entity, the overall size of the business of a covered entity with respect to the number of its employees, and the number, type, and location of its facilities;

    (4) the type of operation or operations, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the employer or other covered entity; and

    (5) the geographic separateness, administrative, or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities.

    Do not rely on this article for legal advice. Determinations of how disability laws apply to employment are complex issues. An experienced employment lawyer needs to interpret the law along with the specifics relating to your workplace discrimination.

    Call 1-877-525-0700 to speak to an experienced employment lawyer knowledgeable of disability discrimination in employment.