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Is teasing about your disability causing you discomfort at work?

Co-workers can sometimes be as thoughtless as school kids in terms of teasing. When it comes to your disability, old friends may understand what you have been going through and watch what they say. However, employees who are new to the company-and to your situation-may take what they think are cute remarks too far, too often. They may not realize it, but they might be crossing the line into disability discrimination, and that is against the law.

Discrimination and harassment

Simple teasing is one thing, and it is not illegal. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act does make it illegal to make offensive remarks about someone like you with a disability, that are so harsh or made so often that your work environment becomes increasingly uncomfortable or hostile. Remarks of this nature constitute harassment.

The responsibilities of the employer

Your employer must provide what is called "reasonable accommodation" to help you, as a disabled person, perform your job and enable you to enjoy company benefits unless doing so causes the employer "undue hardship." This means the accommodation would be too expensive or too difficult in view of the size of the company or its financial standing, but undue hardship is unlikely under most circumstances. In addition, your employer generally cannot ask medical questions or require you to have a medical exam unless you have requested accommodation of some kind, or the employer believes your disability will prevent you from performing a job safely or successfully.

Proving disability

To be covered by the law, you must show that you are substantially limited physically or mentally with respect to a life activity, such as seeing, hearing, walking, talking or learning. You may also qualify if you have a history of a disability, such as cancer, which is now in remission, or if you have a mental or physical impairment that is not transitory.

The kind of employer the ADA affects

Any private business, state or local government, educational institution, labor organization or employment agency that has 15 or more employees must adhere to the provisions of the American Disability Act, which speaks to discrimination in many forms, in addition to harassment.

How to seek help

If you are disabled and being subjected to discriminatory behavior from co-workers or other staff, you may be reluctant to speak up about the situation to anyone at your place of employment. Remember that under no circumstances should you be treated unfairly. Feel free to reach out. This is where an experienced attorney can help support you and see that your rights are protected.

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