ADA in the Workplace

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 What Is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) serves as a federal civil rights law that protects people with disabilities against discrimination in various areas of life. It ensures protection in educational institutions, transportation, public and private places open to the general public, and workplaces.

The ADA aims to establish workplace protections that guarantee employees with disabilities equal access to opportunities and benefits as their non-disabled counterparts.

Who Is Covered by the ADA?

The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, encompassing state and local governments, employment organizations, and labor unions. These entities must adhere to the requirements outlined by the ADA.

Some states have implemented their own disability protection laws, which may offer more extensive protections than the ADA. For example, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act reduces the minimum employee threshold to five. At the same time, both California and Massachusetts employ a broader definition of disability, resulting in more extensive protection for employees.

What Qualifies as a Disability?

Under the ADA, a disability refers to a physical or mental impairment that significantly restricts one or more major life activities. Similarly, the ADA protects people with a history of mental or physical impairments and those perceived by others to have such impairments.

While the ADA does not provide a specific list of covered disabilities, examining the terms “mental or physical impairment” and “major life activities” can offer valuable insight.

Mental or Physical Impairment

The ADA deliberately keeps the definition of mental or physical impairment broad to avoid limiting the range of individuals who might qualify for protection. The primary focus is on the severity of the impairment rather than its specific nature.

Anxiety disorder is not specifically listed in the ADA. However, it could qualify as a mental impairment if it substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as social interaction, concentration, or sleeping. An individual with a severe anxiety disorder could be covered under the ADA.

If an individual’s anxiety disorder significantly impacts their ability to perform everyday tasks or to interact with others, it could be considered a covered disability under the ADA. The severity and duration of the anxiety disorder would be taken into account in determining whether it qualifies as a covered disability under the ADA.

Major Life Activities

The term “major life activities” encompasses a wide array of daily tasks potentially impacted by a disability.

  • Examples of major life activities include but are not limited toSelf-care
  • Manual tasks
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Working

Major life activities can also extend to the functioning of vital bodily systems, such as the following:

  • Immune
  • Bladder
  • Bowel
  • Brain
  • Circulatory
  • Digestive
  • Endocrine
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory systems

Do Employers Need to Accommodate Disabilities?

ADA-covered employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals qualified for the desired job. However, employers are not obligated to provide accommodations that would result in undue hardship for the employer.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?

An accommodation is deemed reasonable if it is feasible, meaning it can be implemented without causing undue hardship for the employer.

In general, a reasonable accommodation refers to any modification in the work environment or the way tasks are performed that enables an applicant or employee to experience equal employment opportunities.

Reasonable accommodations may involve changes to the application process, the physical work environment, how the job is typically executed, or adjustments that allow an employee to enjoy the same benefits and privileges as a non-disabled employee in a comparable position.

Examples of potential reasonable accommodations include:

  1. Enhancing the accessibility of existing facilities: Installing a wheelchair ramp, adding handrails in the bathroom, or modifying doorways to accommodate wheelchairs.
  2. Adjusting work schedules: Allowing employees to work from home, permitting a flexible schedule, or modifying start and end times.
  3. Introducing or modifying equipment: Providing a screen reader software for visually impaired employees, providing a specialized keyboard for an employee with limited dexterity, or providing a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee.
  4. Altering training methods and test administration: Allowing extended time for tests, providing a quiet room for exams, providing a written copy of training materials, or providing a sign language interpreter for training sessions.
  5. Amending workplace policies: Modifying a dress code policy to accommodate religious attire, creating a policy to allow for service animals in the workplace, or allowing for frequent breaks for an employee with a medical condition.
  6. Providing interpreters or readers: Providing a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee, providing a reader for an employee with a visual impairment, or providing a language interpreter for an employee who speaks a different language.
  7. Re-assigning an employee to a different available position: Transferring an employee to a job that better suits their abilities or providing modified duties to allow for the employee’s disability. For example, an employee with a physical disability could be transferred to a job that requires less physical labor.

An accommodation that necessitates the removal of an essential job function would not be considered reasonable. An individual who cannot perform an essential function, with or without a reasonable accommodation, is not deemed qualified. Essential functions or duties are fundamental aspects of a position.

Employers are not obligated to lower production standards. They may choose to do so but are not required. A reasonable accommodation should enable a disabled employee to meet the existing standard.

How Does Undue Hardship Factor In?

The ADA states that employers are not compelled to provide a reasonable accommodation if it results in undue hardship. Undue hardship typically refers to causing significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

Determining what constitutes a significant difficulty or expense depends on the employer’s specific circumstances and the nature of their business.

Employers must assess accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis to determine if they would cause undue hardship. Examples of accommodations that might lead to undue hardship include those that would fundamentally alter the operation of the business, are excessively disruptive or are cost-prohibitive given the employer’s financial resources.

Should I Speak With a Lawyer for Help With ADA Issues?

If you have any questions about the ADA, whether you’re an employee, an applicant, or an employer, it’s best to seek advice from a discrimination lawyer who has experience in this field. By doing so, you can ensure that you fully understand your rights and obligations under the law.

A discrimination lawyer can provide you with valuable insights and guidance, including explaining the specifics of the ADA, determining if any reasonable accommodations should be made, and advising you on the next steps to take. In addition, if you’re involved in an ADA-related case, an attorney can represent you in court.

LegalMatch is a platform that can help connect you with experienced discrimination lawyers who handle ADA-related cases. By providing information about your specific situation, LegalMatch can match you with lawyers with the necessary skills to assist you with your legal needs.

LegalMatch’s matching process is free and confidential, and it can help you find the right attorney for your unique circumstances. Once you’ve been matched with a lawyer, you can schedule a consultation to discuss your case and get legal advice tailored to your situation.

LegalMatch can also provide you with valuable resources and information about the ADA, as well as other legal issues that may be relevant to your case.

By using LegalMatch, you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you have a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side.

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