Disability Discrimination FAQs

What constitutes a disability in Iowa?

Under Iowa state law, a “disability” includes: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) a record of such impairment, (3) being perceived as having such an impairment, or (4) a positive HIV test result or diagnosis of AIDS or AIDS-related condition.

A “physical impairment” includes any physiological disease, disorder, physical disfigurement, loss of a body part, or any impairment affecting any body system.

A “mental impairment” includes any mental or psychological disorder, such as developmental issues, learning disabilities, or emotional or mental illness.

A person is “perceived as having such an impairment” if others regard a person as having a physical or mental impairment when said person has no impairment, if the person has an impairment that is believed to be more limiting than it actually is, or has an impairment that substantially limits major life activities solely as a result of the attitudes of others.

What makes me entitled to an accommodation for my disability?

You may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation from your employer if you have a disability under Iowa or federal law and you are qualified to perform your job with a reasonable accommodation and your accommodation does not pose an “undue hardship” on your employer’s business operations.

Also, your employer must know or believe that you have a disability and either know that you have requested a disability, or it must be clear to your employer that you require an accommodation or that your disability makes it difficult for you to request an accommodation.

How do I request an accommodation for my disability?

The law does not impose any “magic words” to make an official request for an accommodation, although using the term “reasonable accommodation” should put your employer on notice that you are requesting an accommodation for a disability.
If your employer has an official form or process for requesting an accommodation, following that procedure should guarantee that your employer has noticed that you are requesting an accommodation. A request can be made in writing or made orally to your supervisor, a company manager, or your employer’s human resources department.

Do I have a disability discrimination claim if I am replaced while on disability leave?

Possibly. Companies that employ more than 50 employees are subject to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, covered employers are required to provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a medical condition, to care for a sick family member in their household, or following the birth or adoption of a child. If you take disability leave under the FMLA, your employer is required to hold your position for you during the term of your FMLA leave.

In addition, Iowa law requires most employers to provide maternity leave relating to pregnancy, childbirth, or other related conditions. However, your employer need only ensure that your position is available for you when you return from your disability leave; your employer may have other workers to cover your job responsibilities while you are out on leave.

How do I know if I am being retaliated against by my employer for requesting an accommodation for my disability or for complaining about disability discrimination?

To prove a claim for retaliation arising from your disability, you must first prove that you engaged in a protected activity. Examples of protected activity include:

  • Reporting that you or another co-worker has been the victim of disability discrimination
  • Informing your employer that you suffer from a disability
  • Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability
  • Taking disability leave that you are entitled to under company policy or under the law.

Next, you must prove that you have suffered an adverse employment action, which may take the form of termination from employment, denial of a promotion or pay raise, or transfer to a less-desirable position or job duties.

Do I have to tell my employer about my disability?

No. You are under no obligation to disclose a disability to an employer. If your employer suspects that you have a disability that might make it difficult for you to perform the requirements of your position, they can ask whether you are capable of performing the requirements of your position with or without reasonable accommodation.

Also, if your employer suspects that you have a disability, they cannot treat you less favorably than other similarly situated employees because of your disability.

Can I be terminated if I miss work frequently due to my disability?

Although a disabled employee cannot be discriminated against on account of their disability and is entitled to reasonable accommodation for it, that does not mean the employee is exempt from an employer’s absence management policy.

If you are taking more absences that you are entitled to under your employer’s policy or by law, you may want to consider requesting a reasonable accommodation from your employer that would entitle you to take additional disability leave.

However, your employer may not have to accommodate frequent absences if it poses an undue hardship to your employer’s operations.

Can I be reassigned or terminated if I take time off to care for a disabled family member?

If your employer is subject to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, you are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a disabled family member in your household.

Your employer might also have additional leave policies that allow you to care for disabled family members.

However, your employer cannot take adverse employment action against you on account of the fact that you have a disabled family member. This includes entitled leave you take under company policy or law or because your disabled family member may be insured under a health insurance policy you receive through your employer.

Do disability discrimination laws apply to employers who only employ a handful of workers?

The Iowa Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability. The Act applies to any employer in Iowa who employs at least four non-family member workers. So companies who only employ a few workers may also be subject to state disability discrimination laws.