People diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can make excellent employees. However, many are denied opportunities – for a job, for advancement, for benefits and more. Disability discrimination is all too often a daily occurrence for those with ASD, especially because the spectrum is so broad and the condition still not well understood.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 1 in 59 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism annually, a figure that has steadily increased in recent years.
As our Los Angeles workplace disability discrimination attorneys can explain, the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ban disability-based discrimination in employment.
Discrimination is understood to mean that a qualified job applicant or employee is treated unfavorably by a job applicant because of his or her disability.
Legal Protections for Workers With Autism
What an employment lawyer must establish in order to prove a case like this is that:
- You are qualified for a position.
- You have a disability, which is a physical or mental condition substantially limiting a major life activity.
- An employer/prospective employer treated you unfairly because of your disability.
As far as what it means to have a “substantially limiting condition,” courts have held that this does not mean “severe.” Often, even minor life impairments can quality a person for protection under the ADA, and people with autism usually qualify. The impact to major life activity consideration is to be made before weighing the availability of things like assistive technology or medication.
Autism often falls into this category.
The law holds that no employer should discriminate against qualified persons on the basis of their disability with regard to:
- Job applications;
- Job training;
- Any other of the conditions, privileges and terms of employment.
Discrimination can take the form of using certain tests or qualification standards that aren’t job-related but have the effect of screening out persons with disabilities. It could also be a refusal to make reasonable accommodations for an otherwise qualified person or even harassment (which is so frequent and severe as to be hostile OR results in an adverse employment action).
Disability discrimination protection extends to people on the basis of their relationship (perceived or real) with someone who has a disability. For instance, if a company discriminates against the parent of a child with autism on the assumption that the need to care for the child, take them to therapy appointments, etc would impact their job performance, that would be considered disability discrimination.
Why It’s Difficult for People With Autism to Secure, Maintain Employment
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability, impacting how people interact with and perceive the world around them. It is often associated with physical sensory and neurological impairments. There is no “cure,” and those who have it may also struggle with learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions. Often with early intervention treatment, support and workplace accommodations, people with autism can live healthy, productive lives – and be great assets to their employer.
A review of federal EEOC data published in the journal Work found that those with autism most likely to make claims of disability discrimination were younger, male and working in the service industries sector for large employers.
Many adults with autism say they often feel overwhelmed by the social processes associated with obtaining a job, and that even once they land one, there is a lack of understanding from co-workers and bosses and a general unwillingness to make adaptations. Because autism is not always an obvious condition, workers also sometimes face suspicions that they are malingering.
If you suspect you have been discriminated against at work, contact our experienced disability discrimination attorneys in Los Angeles.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Autism: People face ‘daily discrimination’ in work, September 2019, By Nelli Bird and Rachel Flint, BBC News