Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
MCAD FACT SHEET: EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF DISABILITY
Under Massachusetts law (Chapter 151B) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal for an employer, an employment agency, or a labor organization (such as a union) to discriminate against someone based on his or her disability or handicap. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination enforces these laws as well as other Massachusetts laws that prohibit disability discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and credit.
“Qualified Handicapped Persons” Are Protected By These Laws
1. What is a handicap or a disability?
A handicap or a disability is a physical or mental condition that substantially limits one or more of a person's major life functions. Examples of major life functions include seeing, hearing mobility, and working. Massachusetts law uses the word “handicap” and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act uses the word “disability”- the laws are very similar.
Examples of impairments that may limit a major life function include paraplegia, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, AIDS or being HIV positive, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental retardation, psychiatric disabilities and learning disabilities.
Alcoholism is also a disability covered by these laws, but recreational use of alcohol is not covered. People with addictions to illegal substances who are currently using drugs illegally are not protected. Persons who are not current illegal drug users but are discriminated against based on their past history of drug addiction are protected. The law protects people who are discriminated against based upon their record of disability. For example, a person who has a history of hospitalization for a psychiatric disability but who is not presently mentally ill is protected if s/he is refused employment based on her/his history of hospitalizations. In addition, the law protects people who are discriminated against based upon other people's belief that they are disabled, even if they are not disabled. A person who is fired from his job because the employer believes s/he has AIDS is protected under the law even if the employee does not have AIDS.
2. Who is “qualified”?
In order to be protected, a person with a disability must be “qualified.” “Qualified” means able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.