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Do Autistic Employees Still Face Discrimination at Work?

November 8th, 2021
Autistic Employees

Autism affects about one in 54 children and is a condition that affects their social skills, speech, and nonverbal communication. There is no single autism, but rather a broad spectrum of conditions affecting these skills.

Although signs of autism appear in children by age three, those signs stay with them as they grow into adults. Autistic individuals have trouble working because their condition affects their ability to communicate at work. However, with the right support, people with autism regularly work in every type of job and industry.

Your Workplace Rights

Just because you have a disability, that does not mean you have fewer rights than other people. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), disabled workers have certain workplace rights. The ADA specifically prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in:

  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • Public accommodations
  • Communications
  • Access to government programs and services

The ADA is the reason you see accessible parking spots at the store and wheelchair ramps to enter. Just because a person has a disability does not mean they should not be able to do all the things someone else can do, such as go to the store.

Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. If an impairment does not limit your ability to participate in a major life activity, the ADA provides no protections. A major life activity is intentionally broad and would include holding a job.

However, you still must be otherwise qualified for the job. Any worker must still possess the ability to perform the essential job functions of the position. If these qualifications are met, a person has certain rights protected by the ADA.

Not be discriminated against in the workplace. The ADA protects disabled people’s right to work. Specifically, the ADA prohibits discriminating against an employee or job applicant with disabilities in:

  • Interview decisions
  • Hiring decisions
  • Pay and pay increases
  • Promotions
  • Termination
  • Retaliation

This means that autistic individuals have a right to be given a fair shot in every aspect of employment, just like any other person. All private employers in the United States who employ at least 15 people must adhere to ADA requirements. If an employer is found to violate any portion of the ADA, they may be subject to fines and penalties.

You also have the right not to be harassed because of your disability. This means you should not face a hostile work environment, retaliation, or harassment of any kind based on your autism.

Reasonable accommodations. If you have a disability and you can otherwise do the essential functions of the job, an employer subject to the ADA must make reasonable accommodations for you. Examples of a reasonable accommodation might include:

  • Giving you an office with a door
  • Keeping bright lights off when you’re working
  • Letting you work from home
  • Giving you regular breaks
  • Allowing you to wear sunglasses or headphones

Your employer or prospective employer must make reasonable accommodations for you to support your ability to do the job. They must also make an effort to accommodate; they cannot simply tell you no. You can even make suggestions about how your disability might be accommodated.

Under the ADA, however, the bar for companies to accommodate is fairly low. A company can avoid giving you accommodation if it would cause the company undue hardship. Although undue hardship is not defined, courts have held this to mean that any accommodation that requires more than little effort or cost would cause an employer undue hardship.

The factors used to determine whether an accommodation would cause a company undue hardship include:

  • The type of accommodation
  • The cost of the accommodation
  • The employee size of the company
  • The financial resources of the company
  • The industry in which the company operates
  • Any prior accommodation costs already incurred

If the cost to accommodate your request would be too great for your employer, they may be able to claim an undue hardship. But for most employers, shouldering a small cost to accommodate your disability is well worth the effort. Yet, many employers still use this undue hardship clause to avoid accommodating any disabled employee requests. If you are dealing with an employer who refuses to even discuss your accommodation request, you could have legal recourse against them.

Signs of Employment Discrimination

There are many signs of employment discrimination. Some are more obvious than others. Some easier to prove than others.

If you have been rejected for a job and the company chose another candidate, that alone is not sufficient evidence of discrimination. However, if you were chosen for an interview, the interviewer was put off by your autistic condition, then you were rejected for the role, that could mean there is some workplace discrimination worth looking into further.

That is one of the areas often overlooked by people facing workplace discrimination: the hiring process. You do not have to an employee of a company to be discriminated against by them. Remember that the next time you interview for a new position.

Workplace discrimination also occurs when you are passed over for a promotion. If you have worked hard, done your work well, and have the skills to handle the increased responsibilities of a promotion, you should be in the running for the job. Getting passed over once might not be sufficient evidence of discrimination. However, a pattern in which you end up in the same job much longer than your colleagues could be evidence of workplace discrimination in violation of the ADA.

You may also face demeaning or harassing comments. Although these comments frequently come from colleagues, they can also come from managers. If you are routinely spoken down to or in a harsh tone, that may be evidence of workplace discrimination.

You may also face unnecessary or unfair discipline. Some supervisors unjustly criticize an employee’s work performance to create documentation for termination. Employers know they cannot terminate an employee because of a disability, so they create reasons for termination, which may include poor work performance. If you spot this happening at work, it could be a discriminatory practice.

Collecting Damages

If you have requested accommodation and your employer has refused to engage interactively with you or if you have faced discrimination in the workplace because of your autism, you may be entitled to damages. Although the amount and type of damages you may be entitled to will vary based on the specific circumstances of your workplace discrimination, you may be able to get compensation for:

  • Back pay if you were terminated or demoted
  • Lost benefits such as retirement contributions and health care
  • Emotional distress
  • Punitive damages

Punitive damages are awarded in extreme situations where the company acted egregiously. While usually a large sum of money, these damages are rare. The other damages, however, are common if you can prove discriminatory practices by your employer or by a company at which you interviewed or submitted an application.

Philadelphia Employment Discrimination Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Make Sure Your Rights are Protected

People with autism still have higher unemployment rates than other people. This can be attributed to workplace discrimination, which comes in many forms. Whether your employer is unwilling to provide reasonable accommodations, or you have been refused employment because of your autism, you may have legal recourse for your workplace discrimination. Speak with the Philadelphia employment discrimination lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. today to learn your rights and how we may be able to help you protect them. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey.

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