Disabilities (ADA): Connecticut
Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.
Authors: Michelle Barrett Falconer, Littler
- In addition to the federal equal opportunity laws, Connecticut employers must comply with the state antidiscrimination statutes, including the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA). See Disability Discrimination in Connecticut.
- The CFEPA applies to both public and private employers that employ three or more employees. See Covered Employers.
- The CFEPA also prohibits employers from taking certain additional actions relating to pregnant employees. See Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act - Protection for Pregnancy.
- Connecticut law contains a specific prohibition against requesting genetic information or discriminating against any employee on the basis of genetic information. See Connecticut Fair Employment Practice Act - Genetic Information.
- Employers are prohibited from discriminating against qualifying medical marijuana patients or the primary caregiver of such a patient. See Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act.
- Similar to the EEOC's role in enforcing Title VII, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CCHRO) is the enforcement authority for the CFEPA. See Administrative Agency.
Disability Discrimination in Connecticut
In addition to the federal equal opportunity laws (see Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination), Connecticut private employers must comply with state and local antidiscrimination laws, including the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Where both federal and state discrimination laws apply, there may be conflicts, and the law more generous to the employee should be followed.
The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act - Disability
The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA) prohibits an employer from:
- Refusing to hire, terminating or otherwise discriminating against individuals in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual's present or past history of mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability or physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness, except in the case of a bona fide occupational qualification (essential qualification) or need;
- Aiding, abetting, inciting, compelling or coercing the doing of any act declared to be a discriminatory employment practice, or attempting to do so; or
- Terminating or otherwise discriminating against any person who has opposed a discriminatory practice, filed a complaint, testified or otherwise assisted in any proceeding under the CFEPA.
The CFEPA applies to both public and private employers that employ three or more employees. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-51. Because the scope of the CFEPA is broader than that of the ADA (i.e., the CFEPA applies to employers with three or more employees, in contrast to the ADA's coverage of employers with 15 or more employees. See Employee Management > Disabilities (ADA) > ADA Employer Applicability), smaller Connecticut employers should be mindful that they may be subject to certain state law requirements.
Under the CFEPA, an employee is any person employed by an employer, but not an individual employed by his or her parents, spouse or child, or in the domestic service of any person. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-51(9).
Interns are eligible for protection against workplace discrimination under the CFEPA. +2015 Ct. ALS 56. An intern is an individual who performs work for an employer for the purpose of training, provided:
- The employer is not committed to hire the individual at the conclusion of the training period;
- The employer and the individual agree that the individual is not entitled to wages for the work performed; and
- The work performed:
- Supplements training given in an educational environment that may enhance the employability of the individual;
- Provides experience for the individual's benefit;
- Does not displace any employee of the employer;
- Is performed under the supervision of the employer or an employee of the employer; and
- Provides no immediate advantage to the employer and may occasionally impede the employer's operations.
What Is a Disability?
In order to establish a viable claim of disability discrimination under Connecticut law, an employee must first show that he or she:
- Has a mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability or physical disability;
- Had a mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability or physical disability; or
- Is perceived as disabled.
Mental disability. Under the CFEPA, mental disability refers to "an individual who has a record of or is regarded as having one or more mental disorders, as defined in the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-IV).
Intellectual disability. An intellectual disability is defined as a "significant limitation in intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior that originated during the developmental period before eighteen years of age."
Learning disability. A learning disability refers to "an individual who exhibits a severe discrepancy between educational performance and measured intellectual ability and who exhibits a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in a diminished ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations."
Physical disability. Under the CFEPA, physically disabled refers to "any individual who has any chronic physical handicap, infirmity or impairment, whether congenital or resulting from bodily injury, organic processes or changes or from illness, including, but not limited to, epilepsy, deafness or being hard of hearing or reliance on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device."
There is a split in authority as to whether transsexualism or gender identity disorder could be included within this definition.
The CFEPA specifically includes blindness as a protected disability. Blindness is defined as an individual "whose central visual acuity does not exceed 20/200 in the better eye with correcting lenses, or whose visual acuity is greater than 20/200 but is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than twenty degrees."
Perceived as disabled. In contrast to the ADA, the CFEPA does not expressly extend its protections to individuals who may be perceived as having a physical disability. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the CFEPA prohibits an employer from discriminating against individuals whom it regards as physically disabled. Discrimination on the basis of a perceived disability occurs when an employer mistakenly perceives an employee to be disabled when in fact the employee is not. "Whether the disability is actual or merely perceived, in each case the employer makes an assumption about capability that is unrelated to actual [job] qualifications." To allow an employer to escape liability merely because a disability is not medically verifiable would reward the exact behavior the statute was intended to prohibit, the court wrote. See Desrosiers v. Diageo N. Am. Inc., +2014 Conn. LEXIS 441 (Conn. December 16, 2014).
Duty to Accommodate
Although the CFEPA does not explicitly impose a duty of reasonable accommodation on an employer, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that such a duty is implied in the statute. See Curry v. Allan S. Goodman Inc., +286 Conn. 390, 415 (2008). In addition to recognizing the existence of an implicit duty to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities, the court also held that the CFEPA requires employers and employees to engage in the "informal, interactive process" mandated by federal law. See Employee Management > Disabilities (ADA) > Duty to Accommodate and the Interactive Process.
An employer may have a defense for failing to provide an employee with an accommodation if it can demonstrate that granting the accommodation will cause an undue hardship on the employer's business.
Comparison With the ADA
The CFEPA diverges from the ADA in the following ways:
- The CFEPA has a broader coverage than federal law. The CFEPA covers all employers having three or more persons in their employ. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-51(10).
- The CFEPA's definition of physically disabled is different from the definition of disabled under the ADA.
- Prior to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), it was settled that the CFEPA's definition of disability was broader than the ADA's definition. See, e.g., Young v. Precision Metal Prods., +599 F. Supp. 2d 216 (D. Conn. 2009) (CFEPA has a far broader definition of disabled than the ADA.). It is hard to predict whether the ADAAA has broadened the term disability so as to encompass all of the various types of disabilities covered by the CFEPA. However, at least one Connecticut District Court found that the CFEPA's definition of physical disability remains broader than the ADA or the ADAAA, because it covers chronic impairments even if not permanent, and it does not require proof that the impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities, as required under the ADAAA. See Hutchinson v. Ecolab, +2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110641 (D. Conn 2011).
The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act - Protection for Pregnancy
The CFEPA also prohibits an employer from taking additional actions relating to a pregnant employee, such as:
- Terminating a woman's employment because of her pregnancy;
- Refusing to grant a pregnant employee a reasonable leave of absence for disability resulting from her pregnancy;
- Denying the pregnant employee any compensation to which she is entitled as a result of the accrual of disability or leave benefits under the employer's plan;
- Failing or refusing to reinstate the pregnant employee to her original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay, accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits and other service credits upon her signifying her intent to return unless, in the case of a private employer, the employer's circumstances have changed and now make it impossible or unreasonable to do so;
- Limiting, segregating or classifying an employee in a way that would deprive her of employment opportunities due to her pregnancy;
- Discriminating against an employee or applicant on the basis of her pregnancy in the terms or conditions of her employment;
- Asking an employee or applicant about childbearing age or plans, pregnancy, function of the individual's reproductive system, use of birth control methods or familial responsibilities, unless the information is directly related to a bona fide occupational qualification or need;
- Failing or refusing to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee or applicant due to her pregnancy, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship;
- Denying employment opportunities to an employee or applicant if such denial is due to the person's request for a reasonable accommodation due to her pregnancy;
- Forcing an employee or applicant affected by pregnancy to accept a reasonable accommodation if such employee or applicant does not have a known limitation related to her pregnancy, or does not require a reasonable accommodation to perform the essential duties related to her employment;
- Requiring an employee to take a leave of absence if a reasonable accommodation can be provided in lieu of such leave; or
- Retaliating against an employee in the terms, conditions or privileges of her employment based upon the employee's request for a reasonable accommodation.
Pregnancy means pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition, including, but not limited to, lactation and infertility. Employees may request a reasonable leave of absencedue to disability resulting from pregnancy.
A disability resulting from pregnancy includes any pregnancy-related impairment or physical limitations imposed by any pregnancy or delivery. The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) Legal Enforcement Guidance (Guidance) provides the following examples of pregnancy-related symptoms and conditions that may give rise to the need for reasonable accommodations or a reasonable leave of absence from work:
- Morning sickness;
- Lower blood sugar;
- Swelling of extremities;
- Increased body temperature;
- Need for best rest;
- Abnormal placentation;
- Bladder dysfunction;
- Carpal tunnel syndrome;
- Severe morning sickness;
- Gestational diabetes;
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension;
- Postpartum depression;
- Infertility or need for fertility treatments;
- Loss or termination of pregnancy; and
- Lactation conditions such as mastitis.
The Guidance indicates that such limitations typically give rise to a need for leave six weeks following a vaginal delivery or eight weeks following a caesarian section. Although these time frames are typical for pregnancies and deliveries with no complications, an employee has the right to take more or less of a reasonable leave of absence as needed.
The Guidance does not have the force of law. However, it does express the enforcement agency's interpretation of employers' obligations under the law.
A reasonable accommodation includes, but is not limited to:
- Being permitted to sit or eat while working;
- More frequent or longer breaks, including bathroom, water or rest breaks;
- Periodic rest;
- Modifying policies prohibiting food or drinks while an employee is working;
- Assistance with manual labor;
- Being provided assistive equipment, such as a stool, chair or assistive lifting equipment;
- Light-duty or desk duty assignments;
- Job restructuring;
- Modified or flexible work schedules, including the option to telework;
- Phone or video interview rather than an in-person interview for a pregnant applicant who may be close to term;
- Modified dress code or uniform requirements;
- Moving a work station to permit the movement or stretching of extremities, or to be closer to a bathroom;
- Temporary transfers to less-strenuous or less-hazardous work;
- Time off to attend prenatal, postnatal or fertility treatment appointments;
- Time off to recover from childbirth; or
- Break time and appropriate facilities for expressing breast milk.
Employees who request an accommodation need not disclose their medical diagnosis. They only need to reveal the nature of the limitation giving rise to the need for accommodation (e.g., back pain) and that the limitation is related to the employee's pregnancy, childbirth or related condition.
With respect to leaves of absence as a reasonable accommodation, an employee is entitled to the following if provided to other similarly situated employees on temporary disability leave:
- Maintenance of the same health insurance coverage;
- Accrual of seniority and participation in employee benefit plans to the same extent and under the same conditions; and
- Retention of employee status. The leave may not constitute a break in service for purposes of longevity and/or seniority under any collective bargaining agreement or under any employee benefit plan.
An employer must reinstate employees to their original job or an equivalent position after the employee returns from a leave of absence, unless it is impossible or unreasonable due to changed circumstances. Upon reinstatement, benefits must be resumed in the same manner and at the same levels as provided when leave began, without any new qualification period, physical exam or other qualifying provisions.
With respect to reasonable accommodations for fertility treatment, if the request involves time away from work to attend appointments, employers may require medical documents of appointments related to fertility.
An employer must grant an employee's request for reasonable accommodation or leave, unless it constitutes an undue hardship. See Guidance. An undue hardship to employers means an action that requires significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of the:
- Cost of the accommodation;
- Overall size and resources of the employer; and
- Impact of the accommodation on the operation of the employer.
When assessing whether a reasonable accommodation constitutes an undue hardship, an employer must consider the differing factors set forth under both the ADA and the CFEPA. Further, when determining whether an undue hardship exists, the CHRO also considers whether the employer has an existing policy that accommodates on-the-job or non-pregnancy-related off-the-job injuries.
If an employer reasonably determines that the requested accommodation constitutes an undue hardship, it must explore alternative accommodations that could meet the employee's needs. See Guidance.
According to the Guidance, an employer must engage in a good-faith interactive process with an employee:
- Anytime an employee makes a reasonable request for accommodation or leave, either orally or in writing; and
- Anytime an employer knows or has a reasonable basis to believe that the employee may need an accommodation.
The interactive process requires that the employee and the employer communicate with each other about the requested accommodations or leave and the underlying limitation.
Further, an employer must initiate a cooperative dialogue with an employee who has shown a performance deficit, asking the employee if a reasonable accommodation might address the performance issue, if the employer:
- Is considering taking adverse employment action against an employee; and
- Has knowledge or a reasonable basis to believe that the employee's performance deficit is related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.
An employer has engaged the employee in good faith if it:
- Consulted pre-existing policies regarding accommodations or temporary leave;
- Responded in a timely manner; and
- Explored alternatives if an initial accommodation or leave request was rejected.
The interactive process concludes when either:
- A reasonable accommodation is agreed upon; or
- The employer and employee conclude that no accommodation is available that either will not cause undue hardship or will not allow the employee to perform essential job duties.
When the process concludes, the Guidance recommends that the employer inform the employee in writing of the determination and maintain records of the process.
The good-faith interactive process starts anew if the employee's condition changes over time and the employee requests new accommodations or additional leave.
Employer Notice Requirements
An employer must provide written notice of a worker's rights under the law, including the right to a reasonable accommodation to the known limitations related to pregnancy:
- To new employees at the commencement of employment; and
- Within 10 days of any employee notifying the employer of her pregnancy.
Written notice should be provided in a language in which the employee is proficient. An employer may comply with these requirements by displaying a poster in a conspicuous place, accessible to employees, in both English and Spanish.
+Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60; see also Guidance.
Employee Notice Requirements
According to the Guidance, employees who know in advance that they will need a reasonable leave of absence should provide advance notice in accordance with the employer's policy. The employer may not require the employee to provide more advance notice than is required for leaves related to reasons other than pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. When the need for leave is unforeseeable, the employee must notify the employer as soon as possible and practical.
Employee Documentation Requirements
An employer may not require medical certification or a doctor's note before discussing the need for a reasonable accommodation. The Guidance states that, in many instances, a medical certification should not be needed before granting the request.
The Guidance also indicates that an employer may require medical certification for leaves of absence, but only if the employer requests documentation from other employees requesting leave for reasons other than pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. An employer that maintains a medical certification requirement must allow at least 15 days, or as long as is reasonably needed, to return the completed medical certification.
The Guidance establishes that an employer should not engage in direct contact with an employee's health care provider or request an employee's medical records without first obtaining the employee's permission. An employer should always allow an employee to submit a written medical certification in lieu of permitting the employer to speak directly with the health care provider. If an employee otherwise submits a complete and sufficient written medical certification, then the employee's refusal to consent to the employer's direct contact with the health care provider should not limit the employee's right to reasonable accommodations.
According to the Guidance, an employer that has obtained an employee's permission to contact their healthcare provider should also give the employee the option to request that someone other than the employee's direct supervisor make that contact, such as HR, a leave administrator, another health care provider or a management official. Communication between an employer and an employee's health care provider, where authorized by an employee, should be limited to: 1) the nature of the limitations that give rise to the need for an accommodation (e.g., back pain); and 2) that the limitations are related to the employee's pregnancy, childbirth or related condition.
An employer that wants to require a fitness-for-duty certification for employees returning to work from pregnancy disability leave can do so only if they provide advance notice of the requirement (i.e., prior to the leave) and only if they require a fitness-for-duty certification for all employees returning from temporary disability leaves unrelated to pregnancy, according to the Guidance. Under the FMLA, employers cannot require fitness-for-duty certifications for employees returning from baby bonding leave.
An employer may request from a health care provider information that is directly related to workplace exposure to a substance that may cause birth defects or constitute a hazard to the employee's reproductive system or fetus, as long as the employer first informs the employee of the hazards involved in exposure to such hazardous substances. Upon the employee's request, the employer must take reasonable measures to protect the employee from the exposure or hazard identified. A reasonable measure is one that is consistent with business necessity and is least disruptive to the employee's terms and conditions of employment. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60 (a)(9); +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60 (a)(10).
Employers may not interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or attempt to exercise an employee's rights under the law. Similarly, employers may not discriminate in any way against a person because the person has opposed a discriminatory employment practice, filed a complaint, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing of the CHRO.
Additionally, an employer may not retaliate against an employee in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because the employee has requested a reasonable accommodation or leave. This includes failing to excuse an employee's absence for a pregnancy-related medical need, such as attending a doctor's appointment.
The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act - Genetic Information
The CFEPA prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring genetic information from an employee or person seeking employment, and from terminating or discriminating against any person on the basis of genetic information. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(a)(11). Genetic information is defined as "information about genes, gene products or inherited characteristics that may derive from an individual or a family member."
Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act
A Connecticut employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee because of the employee's status as a qualifying medical marijuana patient (i.e., a person who is at least 18 years old, is a Connecticut resident and has been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition) or the primary caregiver of such a patient. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-408p(b)(3).
The law requires medical marijuana users to register with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP). +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-408a; +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-408d. A physician's written certification for the medicinal use of marijuana is required for registration.
The physician must certify that the patient has a debilitating medical condition, such as:
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Post-traumatic stress disorder; or
- Any other medical condition approved by the DCP.
While medicinal marijuana may be legal in the State of Connecticut, an employer may still prohibit the use of marijuana during work hours and may discipline an employee for being under the influence during work hours. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-408p.
Whether an employer may prohibit off-work marijuana use was addressed in Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company LLC, +2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150453 (D. Conn. Sept. 5, 2018). The court determined that an employer discriminated against an applicant based on her status as a medical marijuana user in violation of state law when it withdrew a job offer based on the applicant's positive marijuana test. The court stated that, because the Connecticut law specifically allows employers to prohibit employees from using intoxicating substances at work or being under the influence of an intoxicating substance during work hours, "[b]y negative implication, this language makes clear that [the law] protects a qualifying patient for the use of medical marijuana outside working hours and in the absence of any influence during working hours."
Employers have also asserted, and courts have agreed, that employers have the right to discipline and terminate an employee whose marijuana use violates the employer's policies, creates a risk of accidents or results in poor performance.
While the federal ADA does protect individuals who are former or recovering drug addicts from discrimination by employers, it also specifically permits an employer to take an adverse action (e.g., termination, discipline) against employees on the basis of current illegal drug use. Therefore, an individual who currently abuses an illegal drug like marijuana is not considered to be an individual with a disability under the ADA.
The federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires a covered employer to publish policies supporting a drug-free workplace and to report and discipline employees who engage in drug-related crimes occurring in the workplace. An employer that fails to comply may risk its eligibility to compete for federal contracts. Thus far, courts have upheld an employer's right to enforce a drug-free workplace even if an employee is using marijuana for medical purposes. Connecticut law permits an employer that has federal contracts or is otherwise required under federal regulations to maintain a drug-free workplace to take action even if such action is based upon the person's status as a qualifying patient. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 21a-408p. In Noffsinger, the employer argued that because it was subject to federal regulations as a nursing facility, it would be violating federal law by hiring a medical marijuana user. The court dismissed the argument as bordering on "absurd," because "the act of merely hiring a medical marijuana user does not itself constitute a violation of…federal, state, or local law."
A Connecticut employer should:
- Exercise caution in dealing with employees who are registered medical marijuana users under state law and ensure that employees are afforded reasonable accommodations where necessary due to the employee's underlying medical condition that gave rise to the need to use medical marijuana;
- Review its drug testing policies and reasonable accommodation policies and train supervisors to understand whether an employee is impaired. Supervisors and HR should also be trained on how to handle disciplining an employee (e.g., provide employee a reasonable opportunity to contest the discipline) who tests positive;
- Address the policy on the use of medical marijuana within the written policy on substance abuse. For example, if an employer will treat medical marijuana just as it treats other illegal drug use, a published policy advising employees and applicants of that fact will help individuals who may be considering the use of medical marijuana to make an educated decision about how that use may affect their employment; and
- Be cautious when implementing workplace policies that deal with the use of legally prescribed medication, generally, including legally prescribed medical marijuana. The ADA does not permit blanket prohibitions against on-the-job use of prescription medications in general. Thus, while drug testing policies can include legally prescribed drugs, an employer cannot have a zero-tolerance policy which permits adverse action (e.g., termination, demotion) against any employee or applicant who tests positive for prescription medication. Instead, following a positive test, the employer should ask if the employee is taking any prescribed drugs that would explain the positive result.
A Connecticut employer may institute a policy against employees using or being under the influence of marijuana in the workplace. In addition, an employer may implement drug-free workplace policies and require employees to disclose prescription drugs that may adversely affect judgment, coordination or the ability to perform job duties. If an employee discloses that he or she uses a prescription drug, the employer should first request medical certification regarding the effect of the medication on the employee's ability to safely perform his or her essential job functions. The employer should then engage in the interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation would enable the individual to remain employed.
Similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) role in enforcing Title VII, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CCHRO) is the enforcement authority for the CFEPA. Before an individual can file a private cause of action in court, the individual must first exhaust his or her administrative remedies. This means the individual must first file a charge of discrimination with the CCHRO before he or she may proceed to court on a CFEPA claim of disability discrimination. For more information on the enforcement of employment discrimination laws, please see Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination: Connecticut.
For public accommodation purposes, Connecticut law protects the right of blind, deaf or mobility impaired persons to be assisted by guide or assistance dogs, including dogs being trained as guide or assistance dogs. The statute does not define guide or assistance dogs. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-44.
Emotional Support Animals
Connecticut laws do not address emotional support animals in the workplace or in places of public accommodation.
Service Animal Trainers
Employees of guide or assistance dog organizations who are authorized to train guide and assistance dogs receive similar protections as those provided to an individual with a disability in places of public accommodation. The trainers must carry photographic identification. Volunteers for a guide or assistance dog organization are also given similar protections as those provided to an individual with a disability in places of public accommodation if the dog in training is appropriately identified by tags, ear tattoos, bandanas, coats, or leashes and collars. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-44(d).
For a discussion of the federal ADA service animal requirements, please see Disabilities (ADA): Federal > Service Animals.
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