Since 1974, when the first state law protecting disabled employees was passed, California has been at the forefront of the nation in guaranteeing equal access to employment for people with disabilities. In fact, California laws are broader in many aspects than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

If you are a disabled worker in California, you have certain protections under the law. If you suspect your rights have been violated, your best course of action is to consult with an experienced employment lawyer. At the Law Office of Michael Hsueh, you will find a San Jose attorney whose practice is dedicated to representing individuals in employment law matters, and who is well-versed in both state and federal employment law. 


Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), disability is divided into two categories: physical disability and mental disability. Employees with medical conditions are also entitled to accommodation under the law. Each category has its own definition.

Physical disability means having a physiological disorder, condition, disease, anatomical loss, or cosmetic disfigurement that limits a major life activity (makes the activity difficult) and affects one or more of a number of body systems, including:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Immunological
  • Special sense organs
  • Neurological
  • Cardiovascular
  • Respiratory
  • Digestive
  • Reproductive
  • Genitourinary
  • Skin
  • Endocrine
  • Hemic
  • Lymphatic

The definition of physical disability under state law also includes:

  • Having any health impairment requiring special education or related services;
  • Having a history or record of a disease, disorder, health impairment, condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss that is known to the employer; and
  • Being treated or perceived by the employer as having any of these conditions.

Mental disability means any psychological disorder or condition that limits a major activity, such as intellectual development disorders, organic brain syndrome, certain learning disabilities, and emotional or mental illness. It also includes any other mental or psychological condition or disorder requiring special education or related services. 

Medical condition can be defined as any health impairment associated with or related to a diagnosis, record, or history of cancer or a genetic characteristic (a medically or scientifically identifiable gene, chromosome, or inherited characteristic that statistically could lead to a disorder or disease).

Certain conditions are specifically excluded from the definitions of physical and mental disability and are not protected under FEHA. These excluded conditions are:

  • Compulsive gambling
  • Sexual behavior disorders
  • Pyromania
  • Kleptomania
  • Psychoactive substance use disorders from the current unlawful use of controlled substances or drugs


State law protects the rights of individuals to seek and secure employment and to hold a position without discrimination on the basis of a physical or mental disability or a medical condition. It prohibits harassment on the basis of a disability and also prohibits retaliation against a person who has opposed or participated in an investigation into unlawful discriminatory practices.

The law also makes certain requirements of employers concerning applicants or employees with disabilities. Employers must:

  • Provide reasonable accommodation for applicants or employees to allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs; and
  • Engage in good-faith, interactive, timely processes with applicants and employees who need reasonable accommodations.

Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Modification of furniture or workplace facilities
  • Transfer to another location
  • Modification of work schedule
  • Time off for treatment of a disability
  • Modification of workplace policies
  • Job restructuring
  • Additional training

In some cases, an employer will not be required to provide reasonable accommodations if it imposes “undue hardship” on the employer. If you believe your rights to protection under the law as a disabled employee or applicant have been violated, it is in your best interests to speak with a knowledgeable California employment attorney at your first opportunity. 


At the Law Office of Michael Hsueh, our practice is limited to representing employees in employment law matters. We are committed to helping employees enforce their rights under the law, and to actively pursue the compensation they deserve when their rights are violated.

Michael Hsueh will handle your case personally, not outsource it or hand it off to a paralegal, law clerk, or associate. You will have access to his cell phone and you can call or email him anytime and expect him to respond promptly. 

If you are a worker with a disability and need a dedicated legal advocate to protect your rights, call our office today! Attorney Michael Hsueh will be happy to meet with you for a free case consultation and explain your legal options. When we represent you in an employment law matter, you pay us no fees until we recover compensation for you.