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Accommodation of a disability

When is a physical or mental impairment a protected disability under anti-discrimination laws?

Massachusetts law prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee with a disability. What does this mean? An employer may not allow its personnel decisions to be influenced by the fact that the employee either: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) has a record of having such an impairment; or (3) is regarded by the employer as having such an impairment.

An impairment is not necessarily a disability. It is insufficient for an employee to merely say he/she has a medical diagnosis. There must be evidence that the limitation caused by the impairment is substantial. Not all impairments constitute a disability under Massachusetts law. An employee is disabled when he or she has a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The term “major life activities” means functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.

An employer may not discriminate against an employee either because he or she has a disability, or because the employer thinks the employee has a disability. If the employer mistakenly believes the employee has a disability and relies on this belief in making a job action, the employer can be held liable for using the perceived disability against the employee. Negative stereotypes about persons with disabilities are not a legitimate basis for a job action.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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