New Regulations Affirm Rights of Californians With Disabilities
Underscoring California’s role as a leader in advancing the rights of individuals with disabilities, regulations implementing the disability provisions of the Fair Employment and Housing Act were approved by the Office of Administrative Law on December 20, 2012. Effective December 31, 2012, the new rules clarify the protections provided by state and federal statutes, which prohibit disability discrimination and require affirmative steps to accommodate and integrate persons with disabilities. The updated rules represent the first major overhaul of the disability regulations in more than 20 years.
California adopted broad disability rights legislation in 2000 which strengthened the FEHA’s coverage and rejected narrow court rulings. In 2008, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act was also amended, a development attributable in part to the advancements made by states like California. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued regulations implementing the federal legislation shortly thereafter, but California’s law still lacked the clarifying standards. As updated by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), the new regulations synthesize and set forth the standards required of California employers under the FEHA and the ADA, as amended, as well as under another federal law, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
The final regulations make it clearer to employees and employers alike that individuals with a broad range of disabilities are covered, and that the law requires employers to communicate with their disabled employees about possible reasonable accommodations. The rules also set forth a number of exemplary accommodations that may be required, such as assistive technology, a leave of absence, a part-time schedule, telecommuting, and preferential reassignment to a vacant position.
For longer than one year, the FEHC held hearings and afforded the public significant opportunity for comment. A coalition of disability and civil rights organizations* compiled essential input and testimony, and helped ensure that the final regulations reflect and delineate the rights and remedies intended by the legislation. In addition to the affirming the broad scope of coverage and the right to reasonable accommodation, the final FEHC regulations detail the employer’s affirmative defenses and reaffirm the medical privacy rights of employees.
“We commend the FEHC for continuing California’s leadership in the area of disability rights,” said Claudia Center, Senior Staff Attorney and Director of the Disability Rights Program at the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center. “We particularly appreciate the Commission’s clarity in incorporating the ADA Amendments Act and its implementing regulations as a minimum floor of protection for Californians with disabilities, while affirming the additional rights granted by our state law.”
Noah Lebowitz, Board Member of coalition member California Employment Lawyers' Association said: "These new regulations are stated in clear language, making them easy to understand and implement. Employers will better understand their scope of responsibilities and employees will better understand their rights. As a result, we expect increased compliance and a decrease in litigation. A banner day for all Californians."
* The following organizations gave input and helped shape the revised disability regulations:
- The California Employment Lawyers Association
- Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center
- Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
- Disability Rights California
- Disability Rights Legal Center
- Disability Rights Advocates