In a recent case (Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express), the California Court of Appeal found that a California employer may be liable under FEHA for failing to accommodate a nondisabled employee’s request to modify his work schedule to permit him to care for a disabled family member.
The facts of the case
The plaintiff worked as a truck driver for Dependable Highway Express. When he was hired in 2010, he advised the Company that he had a disabled son who required dialysis on a daily basis and he was responsible for administering the dialysis. He requested work schedule accommodations, which was granted. The plaintiff was scheduled to work only days, which enabled him to attend to his son in the evening.
In 2013, the plaintiff got a new supervisor, who changed his work schedule to a swing shift. The plaintiff objected to the schedule change and explained to his new supervisor that the new schedule would not allow him to be home early enough in the evening to tend to his disabled son. The plaintiff request that his schedule be changed back and the new supervisor denied the request. The new supervisor then terminated the plaintiff – telling the plaintiff he “had quit by choosing not to take the assigned shift.”
The plaintiff later filed a lawsuit against the Company claiming that he has discriminated against been because of his association with his disabled family members.
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person with a physical disability, which is defined to include a perception that the person is associated with a person who has, or who is perceived to have, a physical disability. In short, when FEHA forbids discrimination based on a disability, it also forbids discrimination based on a person’s association with another who has a disability.
Under FEHA, an employer is required to provide a disabled employee with reasonable accommodation if such accommodation will enable the disabled employee to perform the essential functions of his position. Since the definition of physical disability includes associational disability, the court concluded that FEHA creates a duty for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person.
Take away for California employers
This case serves as a reminder to California employers that FEHA provides greater protections to employees with disabilities than those provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The key difference highlighted in this case – protections for persons associated with an individual with a disability.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against someone because of his association with a person with a known disability, but it does not include “associational disability” in its definition of disability. Therefore, under the ADA, a person associated with a disabled person would not be entitled to reasonable accommodation.
The same is not true in California. While FEHA also prohibits employers from discriminating against someone because of his association with a person with a known disability, its protections extend further. Since FEHA considers someone associated with a person with a disability to themselves be a person with a disability, that person may be entitled to reasonable accommodation.
The take home message for California employers – when faced with a request from an applicant/employee for reasonable accommodation to care for disabled persons with whom they are associated (e.g. a disabled family member), California employers will be required to engage in the interactive process and determine whether accommodation can be granted.
It is recommended that California employers review their disability/reasonable accommodation policies and verify that the policies are drafted to include considering reasonable accommodation for associational disability.