Are you protected from discrimination if someone you care for has a disability?

I informed my employer that I am the primary caregiver for a person with a disability, and then I was fired. Is this legal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability. In addition to protecting employees from discrimination based on the employee’s own disability, the ADA also has an “association” provision that protects employees from discrimination based on their known relationship or association with a disabled person. This association provision applies regardless of whether the employee themselves is disabled.

The purpose of the association provision is to prevent employers from taking adverse action against employees based on assumptions and stereotypes about caring for persons with disabilities, such as the belief that the caregiver will request excessive time off to care for the disabled person. “Adverse action” includes such conduct as firing or refusing to hire, demoting, failing to promote, or denying benefits to an employee based on that employee’s association with a disabled person.

The ADA does not require an employer to make accommodations for an employee to care for someone with a disability. However, the employer is prohibited from treating employees differently or holding them to a higher standard due to their association with a disabled person.

Example: Bob is the primary caregiver for his wife, Sally, who is disabled. Bob occasionally arrives to his office a few minutes late, and he informs his employer the reason for his tardiness is due to his caregiving responsibilities. Other employees in Bob’s office are frequently late to work as well, but Bob is the only employee who is fired for violating the office’s attendance policy. Bob has a claim for associational discrimination since he was held to a higher standard regarding the office’s attendance policy than other employees.

The ADA also doesn’t require a family relationship for the caregiving employee to be covered by the association provision. Courts instead look to whether the adverse action suffered by the employee was motivated by his or her relationship or association with a disabled person.

Example: Bob volunteers at a local homeless shelter that is well-known for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Bob’s employer fires him because he does not want to employ a person who associates with the “kinds of people” who have HIV/AIDS. Bob has a claim for associational discrimination, even though he is not related to the people at the shelter, since Bob’s termination was motivated by concerns about the disabilities of people who he associates with.

Each situation is different, and a thorough review of the facts may be required to determine if the associational provision of the ADA applies to you. If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on your association with a disabled person, or if you have other questions or concerns about your employment, please reach out for a free consultation at 614-610-4134 or online.

Mansell Law LLC
Employment Attorneys in Columbus, Ohio