The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from terminating an employee because of a medical or physical disability without first offering reasonable accommodations to allow the worker to perform the essential duties of their job.

When a Los Angeles employer fires someone for having a disability – whether that disability is a permanent one or only temporary – it can be a wrongful termination. Workers who have been wrongfully discharged can hold their former employer accountable by filing a wrongful termination lawsuit and demanding the compensation they deserve to overcome the professional setback.

In this article, our Los Angeles employment attorneys will cover:

  • What is a Disability Under the FEHA?
  • What is a Mental Disability?
  • What is a Physical Disability?
  • Are There Any Conditions that are Not Considered a Disability?
  • Does a Disability Have to be Permanent?
  • What are the Essential Duties of a Job?
  • What are Reasonable Accommodations?
  • What is a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?

Under the FEHA, a disability can be either mental or physical.

Mental disabilities are defined by California Government Code § 12926(j) and include:

  • Mental or psychological disorders or conditions
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Emotional or mental illnesses
  • Organic brain syndrome
  • Specific learning disabilities

A mental or physical impairment that would substantially limit one or more major life activities.

Physical disabilities, on the other hand, are defined in § 12926(m). They include:

  • Physiological diseases, conditions, or disorders
  • Cosmetic disfigurement
  • Anatomical loss

To qualify as a disability, though, physical conditions have to both:

  • Make it more difficult for someone to engage and succeed in physical, mental, or social activities or their work, and
  • Affect at least one of these body systems or organs:
    • Neurological
    • Immunological
    • Musculoskeletal
    • Sense organs
    • Respiration
    • Speech
    • Reproductive
    • Cardiovascular
    • Genitourinary
    • Digestive
    • Skin
    • Hemic and lymphatic
    • Endocrine

Additionally, physical disabilities also include:

  • Health impairments that require special education or similar services
  • A recorded history, known to the employer, of a health impairment or other physical issue
  • Prior workplace recognition as a physical disability by, for example, an earlier employer, even if the disability has no current disabling effect, but has the potential to become one

However, the following disorders are not considered to be either a mental or a physical disability under the FEHA:

  • Sexual behavior disorders
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Kleptomania
  • Pyromania
  • Substance abuse disorders resulting from ongoing use of illegal drugs

A medical condition – whether mental or physical – does not have to be permanent to count as a disability under the FEHA. In fact, many physical disabilities are temporary and are the result of a medical condition that will be overcome with time, treatment, and healing.

For example, a construction worker who breaks his ankle in a workplace accident – or even playing touch football with his children – may be unable to walk or even stand for a few months while he is in a brace or cast.

Whenever one of these mental or physical disabilities threatens a worker’s ability to perform the essential functions of their job, employers often begin to consider terminating the worker.

The FEHA considers an “essential function” of a job to be a fundamental aspect – rather than a marginal one – of the role held by the worker claiming a disability. A function of a job is likely to be essential if:

  • The whole point of the job is to perform that function
  • The function can only be performed by a few of the workers
  • The worker was hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform that function

Factors used to determine whether a function is “essential” to a role include:

  • The employer’s judgment
  • Job descriptions for the role
  • Time spent performing the function
  • Consequences of the function not being performed
  • Pertinent collective bargaining agreements
  • The experiences of prior workers in the role
  • The experiences of current workers in similar roles

If a mental or physical disability threatens a worker’s ability to perform an essential function of their job, employers have to offer reasonable accommodations to the worker. These accommodations are supposed to help the worker accomplish the essential functions of their position. They often include:

  • Making existing facilities accessible by, for example, providing wheelchair ramps
  • Adjusting or modifying equipment
  • Altering training materials or policies
  • Restructuring job roles or working schedules, including assigning a disabled worker to a vacant position where their disabilities will not impair essential job functions

If you are disabled under the FEHA and your employer terminates you rather than offering reasonable accommodations to help you perform the essential functions of their job, you may have been the victim of wrongful termination.

Employers frequently trample on the FEHA by firing workers who get disabled and who struggle to perform at work. Employers tend to only think about what a worker can provide to them, right now, and think nothing about a worker’s legal right to their position or their obligation as an employer to not discriminate against certain classes of people. They seem especially willing to fire immigrant labor for even minor or short-term disabilities that do not even completely prevent them from performing on the job.

Filing a wrongful termination lawsuit if you have been fired because of a disability can enforce the law, stop your employer from discriminating against people, and recover compensation for your professional setbacks. That compensation can take the form of:

  • Legal damages
  • Back pay
  • Attorney fees
  • Reinstatement

That compensation is meant to make you whole, once again, and provide financial coverage for all of the losses that you have experienced because your employer could not be bothered giving you the chance to keep your position.


At Sirmabekian Law Firm, PC, we make it our business to ensure your rights as an employee are upheld and when they have been violated, we work hard to get you compensated. Having a disability can make some workers especially vulnerable to rights violations. Contact our office at 818-473-5003or online to discuss your case. We’ll provide you with your best options moving forward.

Get A Free Case Evaluation

We are here to help you with law questions