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When does harassment constitute disability discrimination?

Many individuals with disabilities do not let their medical condition impair their lives. They are still perfectly capable of working and supporting themselves independently. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects disabled employees or applicants from workplace discrimination. It even protects those who are discriminated against not because they have a disability, but because someone such as a spouse or child does. Unfortunately, just because something is illegal does not mean it won't happen, and some disabled individuals in Minneapolis may find they are the victims of disability discrimination.


A person discriminates against a disabled employee when he or she treats the employee less favorably in the workplace simply because the employee is disabled. Similarly, it is illegal to harass a disabled employee in the workplace.

What constitutes workplace harassment? Mere teasing, rude comments, offhand remarks or a one-time incident is not necessarily illegal on its own. In order for these acts of harassment to be illegal, they must happen so often and be so severe that it creates a hostile workplace or it causes the employer to make an adverse employment decision against the disabled individual, such as wrongful termination.

The harasser can be any type of individual in the workplace. It can be the individual's supervisor or a co-worker. It can also be a supervisor in another part of the workplace. It can even be a customer or client of the employer.

Those with disabilities should not have to experience fear, shame or ridicule in the workplace. They deserve to be treated with the respect any employee should expect, and any decisions made regarding them should be fair. If an individual with a disability believes he or she is the victim of illegal workplace harassment or discrimination, he or she may want to take legal action against it.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Disability Discrimination," accessed May 2, 2016

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