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Accommodations for caretakers of people with disabilities

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Under a new ruling, families and caretakers of people with disabilities may be entitled to workplace accommodations. 

Taking care of a parent, child or other loved one with a disability can often feel like a second job. As a caretaker, you may not get to go home and relax after a long day at the office. It can be a tremendous struggle to care for the one you love while also meeting your demands at work.

Fortunately, a recent decision by the California Court of Appeal provides some much-needed assistance for caretakers trying to juggle these responsibilities. In an April ruling, the court extended certain legal protections to people "associated with persons with disabilities." What does that mean for you and your family?

Taking care of caretakers in the workplace

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers in all states are required to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. The California Court of Appeal has taken that requirement one step further, applying it to associates of people with disabilities as well. That applies to anyone who takes care of a child, parent, relative or other individual with a disability.

What is a reasonable accommodation? A reasonable accommodation is assistance or alteration to a position or workplace that allows employees with disabilities to perform their jobs. Common examples of reasonable accommodations for disabled employees include specialized equipment, flexible schedules to accommodate medical appointments, adjusted production expectations and adjustments to work sites.

In this case, a California truck driver had an accommodation that allowed him to work early hours so he could administer his son's dialysis in the afternoon. His employer revoked that accommodation, telling the employee he could either work a later shift or be terminated from his employment. The court found that this conduct constituted illegal discrimination and retaliation under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

In addition to ruling on the side of the truck driver, the court held that all employers covered by FEHA must provide reasonable accommodations for employees associated with people with disabilities. These accommodations might include altered schedules, work-from-home arrangements or other adjustments related to schedule or transportation.

What does it mean for employees?

Put simply, the ruling makes it easier to manage the conflicting demands of work and private life. Hopefully, workers in California will no longer have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for the people who count on them.

If you need an accommodation at work to take care of someone with a disability, speak with your manager or HR rep to determine what kind of accommodation is appropriate. Your employer may not terminate your employment or take any other adverse action to retaliate against you for requesting an accommodation. If it does, or if you are denied a reasonable request, consider talking to an attorney.

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