The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that aims to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in various aspects of life, including employment.
This act emphasizes the rights of disabled employees and job applicants, ensuring they receive fair treatment and equal opportunities in the workplace.
What Does the ADA Entail for Employers?
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified people due to their disabilities. Employers cannot refuse to hire or terminate a person’s employment solely based on their physical or mental impairments.
The ADA also mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees as long as these accommodations do not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
Let’s say an employee has a visual impairment and is having difficulty performing their job duties because they are unable to read small text on their computer screen. A reasonable accommodation for this employee would be to provide them with a larger monitor or screen reader software that can read text out loud.
This accommodation would enable the employee to perform their job duties effectively. It would not impose an undue hardship on the employer, as the cost of a larger monitor or screen reader software is relatively low compared to the benefits gained by retaining a valuable employee.
Who Does the Act Protect?
Title I of the ADA specifically focuses on workplace protections, intending to guarantee equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
A person with a disability is defined as someone with a mental or physical impairment that significantly restricts one or more major life activities. The ADA also offers protection to people with a history of mental or physical impairments and those who are perceived to have such impairments by others.
To qualify for protection under the ADA, a person must meet the following two criteria:
- Having a mental or physical impairment; and
- Having that impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities.
The law deliberately uses broad language to cover a wide range of impairments and activities, ensuring comprehensive protection for those requiring it.
Which Employers Are Required to Follow the Act?
The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, encompassing state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations. Additionally, federal employees are protected from discrimination under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal civil rights law.
Can an Employer Request Medical Examinations?
During the application process, employers are not allowed to ask questions about a person’s disability or require a medical examination, even if the examination is related to the job. However, after extending a job offer but before the applicant starts working, employers can inquire about disabilities and require medical examinations as long as these requirements are consistent for all new employees in the same position.
Once an employee begins working, the employer can ask disability-related questions and request medical examinations only if they are job-related and necessary for the business’s operation.
It is worth noting that not all medical procedures fall under the category of medical examinations according to the ADA. For example, blood or urine tests for illegal drug use, physical fitness tests, and polygraph tests are not considered medical examinations.
What are Reasonable Accommodations?
A reasonable accommodation is a modification in the work environment or processes that enable an applicant or employee with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
These accommodations can encompass changes to the application process, the physical work environment, job execution, or the benefits and privileges offered to employees.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Enhancing accessibility features in existing facilities: Installing wheelchair ramps or lifts to make a building accessible for employees with mobility impairments; installing automatic doors or touchless faucets to make it easier for employees with dexterity impairments to navigate through the workplace.
- Adjusting work schedules: Allowing an employee with a medical condition to take breaks as needed to manage their symptoms. Permitting an employee with a visual impairment to work during daytime hours when there is more natural light.
- Adding or modifying equipment: Providing a larger computer monitor or screen reader software for an employee with a visual impairment; Installing a hearing loop system in a meeting room to assist employees with hearing impairments.
- Adapting training methods and testing procedures: Providing training materials in alternate formats (such as braille or audio recordings) for an employee with a visual impairment; Allowing an employee with a learning disability to take a test orally instead of in writing.
- Altering workplace policies: Allowing an employee to work from home on occasion to accommodate medical appointments or treatment; Allowing an employee to bring a service animal to work to assist with a disability.
- Providing interpreters or readers: Providing a sign language interpreter for an employee who is deaf or hard of hearing; providing a reader or scribe for an employee with a visual impairment who needs assistance reading or writing.
- Reassigning employees to different available positions: Reassigning an employee with a medical condition to a less physically demanding job; transferring an employee to a different shift to accommodate a medical treatment schedule.
Can an Employer Ever Fire or Refuse to Hire Someone With a Disability?
While the ADA prohibits workplace discrimination, it does not oblige employers to hire or retain an individual with a disability who is incapable of performing a job’s essential functions. An essential function is a fundamental aspect of the position, and it is unreasonable for an employer to eliminate it.
If a job applicant cannot perform an essential function with or without reasonable accommodation, the employer may decline to hire them, as they would not be considered qualified. Similarly, employees may be terminated if they cannot perform an essential function even after receiving reasonable accommodations.
Let’s say a company is hiring for a position that involves frequent lifting of heavy objects, and this is an essential function of the job. A job applicant with a back injury applies for the position but cannot lift heavy objects even with reasonable accommodations, such as a back brace or a lifting aid. The employer determines that the applicant cannot perform an essential function of the job and declines to hire them.
Similarly, let’s say an employee has been working as a cashier for a store for several years but develops a medical condition that prevents them from standing for extended periods of time.
The employer provides reasonable accommodations, such as a stool or chair for the employee to sit on while working, but the employee is still unable to stand for the amount of time required for the job. In this case, the employer may terminate the employee as they are unable to perform an essential function of the job even with reasonable accommodation.
If an Employer is Discriminating Against Me Because of My Disability, Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you suspect that your employer is discriminating against you due to your disability or because they believe you have a disability, it’s recommended to seek advice from a discrimination attorney. These professionals can provide you with valuable guidance on the ADA’s relevant provisions and how they may apply to your situation.
LegalMatch is a platform that can connect you with employment attorneys or discrimination attorneys in your area who handle disability discrimination cases. You can submit your case details on the platform and receive multiple responses from qualified attorneys interested in representing you.
Submitting your case details on the platform allows you to compare and choose the attorney that best fits your needs and budget. LegalMatch also provides helpful resources such as lawyer reviews and ratings, client testimonials, and legal guides to help you make an informed decision.
Use LegalMatch to find the right lawyer for your case today.