Protection for Friends and Family Members Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Most people know that discriminating against people with disabilities is illegal. Few know that the law also protects those who associate with someone who has a disability. A provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who are not themselves disabled but have a connection with someone who is.

The law offers protection in several common situations:

  • Discrimination due to fear of high medical costs
  • Discrimination resulting from fear of disease
  • Discrimination based on the belief that a disabled individual will cause distraction or poor performance

The first kind of discrimination happens when a family member needs costly medical care. This discrimination can occur before or after the employer pays the medical costs.

The second type of discrimination is when an employer acts against an employee who associates with someone who has a communicable illness. Employees with family members who have HIV or hepatitis may be targeted. It is also against the law to discriminate against someone who has a friend with a communicable disease.

The third type of case occurs when an employer thinks that an employee’s relationship with a disabled person will affect job performance. This type of discrimination can follow a request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires companies of a certain size to let employees take time off to care for ill family members. Retaliation against an employee for requesting FMLA leave in such cases can also violate the ADA.

Here in Western Pennsylvania, a jury found that a manager was fired from her job at Burger King because her son had cancer. In that case, Buffington v. PEC Mgmt. II LLP, the employee had good evidence. For example, her bosses made comments like they needed someone whose “head is there 100%.” After firing her, they told her she could now spend all of her time with her son.

Many companies understand that they need to be sensitive when dealing with an employee who is associated with someone who has a disability. Unfortunately, some still make biased and illegal decisions. If you think you have been discriminated against because of your ties to someone who has a disability, call an employment lawyer to learn your rights.