Can a California employer be liable for failing to accommodate an employee’s request to modify his work schedule to permit him to care for a disabled family member? The court has recently said yes, an employer can be held liable for this behavior under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

In a recent case, a delivery company hired an employee whose son is in need of a kidney transplant. The son requires daily in-home dialysis treatment that only the employee can administer. The delivery company had accommodated the employee’s need to be home in the evening to assist his son for three years. However, when a new manager assigned the employee a night shift that interfered with his son’s dialysis schedule, the employee refused to work the shift. The new manager fired the employee for failing to report for this shift.

The court originally agreed with the delivery company that the employee was unable to show that the termination decision was based on his association with his disabled child or in retaliation for his scheduling requests. But on appeal, the court held that FEHA provides protection for associational disability discrimination, which makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on a person’s association with another who has a disability.

For employers, you should be cautious not to take adverse employment action against an employee for reasons that are based on the employee’s relationship with a disabled person.