The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that ensures the people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as those without disabilities. Passed by congress in 1990, it prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, similar to that of discrimination based on national origin, race, or sex in the United States. These protections extend to state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
The ADA states that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to their disabled employees. Additionally, business establishments are required to provide reasonable access to those with disabilities. There are violations for compliance failure, and specific conditions to limit any parties from being taken advantage of.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?
Employers must make changes to the workplace or a position in order to enable an employee to do their job despite their disability, within reason. Reasonable accommodations should be made to the work environment, schedule, or procedures. These changes allow the disabled employee to perform essential job functions or major life activities in the workplace. Some examples of reasonable accommodations are:
- Making existing facilities more accessible to disabled employees, such as installing a wheelchair ramp or modifying bathroom stalls to be wheelchair accessible;
- Job restructuring: this can be something as simple as providing a seat to retail cashiers while they work;
- Modifying work schedules, so disabled employees are allowed ample breaks for rest, commute times are considered, etc.;
- Internal reassignment to a more accommodating position. For example, moving a disabled warehouse worker to a desk job;
- Providing accessible software and assistive technologies such as videophones for the deaf and hearing impaired;
- Modifying workspace layout to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, etc.;
- Providing sign language interpreters, closed captioning, large print and Braille printed materials, etc.;
- Providing remote positions so the chronically ill may work from home and have an easier time attending doctor’s appointments; or
- Adjusting policies to allow for service animals, time off to access medical care, etc.
It is important to remember that any requests for accommodations must be reasonable. The nature of the employee’s work as well as the work environment must come into consideration, and any accommodations that would impose undue hardship on the employer are not required. Excessively expensive or difficult to implement requests are considered undue hardships.
In court evaluations, a balancing test will be used to compare the accommodation with the financial resources of the employer. The benefit of retaining the employee is also considered. It is the employer’s responsibility to exhaust every reasonable solution possible before deeming the request as undue hardship.
When Must an Employer Provide a Reasonable Accommodation, and What if They Refuse?
Each jurisdiction determines the time frame in which a reasonable accommodation must be made. Some jurisdictions state that the employer is under no obligation to make any accommodations until the disabled employee has made a request for an accommodation.
However, other jurisdictions require the employer to make preemptive accommodations before the disabled employee requests them. Further, if an employee makes several requests for reasonable accommodations, the employer is not necessarily required to grant each and every one.
It may violate the ADA to assume an employee has a qualifying disability, or is substantially limited by their impairment. The ADA states that such assumptions could qualify as workplace discrimination.
Because of this, it may be difficult or even risky for an employer to determine if there is a duty to accommodate without an employee first making a request, indicating that they are, in fact, disabled. It is not against the ADA to request information on a worker’s disability during the hiring process. Using this information, employers may make preemptive accommodations without violating the ADA.
If after making a timely request for a reasonable accommodation, your employer refuses to make any accommodations, there are steps you must take before taking court action. You must make an additional attempt to ensure that your employer is aware of the request, and that they understand your need based on your disability.
You should explain that you have a legal right to reasonable accommodations in order to do your job, and that without the accommodation, you are unable to do so. Should the employer continue to ignore your request, you should consult an attorney to determine your best course of action.
What is ADA Access?
ADA access refers to a business establishment’s ability to accommodate persons with disabilities, including their own employees. These public ADA accommodations must be made, under law, to ensure all people can freely access the establishment. These include:
- Installing wheelchair ramps;
- Providing handicap parking spaces;
- Providing accessible restrooms; or
- Installing handrails and widening pathways.
As you can see, by following these requirements, employers may be providing reasonable accommodations by default. Restaurants, stores, malls, office spaces, movie theaters, and public restrooms and parks are just some examples of spaces required to provide ADA access.
What are Some Consequences for ADA Violations?
Consequences of ADA access violations can include citations, fines, or an injunction. The injunction requires the employer to correct the inadequate conditions. Additionally, if a patron of the business was injured because of the infraction, the business owner may face a private civil lawsuit filed by the injured patron, potentially leading to personal injury damages.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Need to File an ADA Accommodation Claim?
If you are disabled, you are entitled to specific protections outlined by the ADA. Should your employer fail to provide reasonable accommodations or terminate you for requesting them, you may have a valid legal claim against them. A knowledgeable and experienced employment attorney will help you understand your rights as well as your options. Further, they will also represent you in court if necessary.