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Lesser Known ADA Facts

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prevents discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA represents a promise by the federal government of equal access to opportunity for all. The law seeks to end challenges in participation in many aspects of living and working in America. The ADA covers:

  • Job application process
  • Job offers
  • Hiring
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Training
  • Advancement
  • Employment privileges
  • Firing
  • Other aspects of employment

Employers (private employers and the government), employment agencies, and labor unions can't discriminate against otherwise qualified people with disabilities.

Inclusiveness in employment practices and the work environment gives businesses a competitive edge. Avoiding disability discrimination and following the ADA is in everyone's best interests.

When Does the ADA Apply?

Misunderstandings abound about how the ADA affects employers and offers protections for employees. The following information explains the rights and privileges of employment for employees with disabilities.

ADA regulations apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Some state laws (and local government anti-discrimination laws) may have lower thresholds. They could force employers to follow the ADA if they have as few as five employees.

What Is the Definition of Disability Under the ADA?

As defined by the ADA, a disabled individual is someone who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Has a record of such an impairment
  • Is known as having such an impairment (even in the absence of an actual disability)

Also, employers may not retaliate against employees or applicants who oppose or speak out against discrimination based on a disability or perceived disability.

Does the ADA Force Employers to Hire Unqualified People?

No. The ADA does not force employers to hire unqualified people with disabilities.

Applicants Must Be Qualified for the Job

To qualify for protection under the ADA, a person with a disability must qualify to do the work. Only qualified applicants can claim discrimination under the ADA. A person must be able to perform all essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

Does the ADA Force Employers To Hire Disabled People?

No. Employers do not have to hire disabled people for whom their employment would create an undue hardship.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

A disability substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities. Disabled employees may need help to perform their jobs adequately.

An employer can hire the chosen applicant if the decision is not based on disability. The ADA guarantees the right to a reasonable accommodation.

What Is an Undue Hardship?

According to the ADA, an undue hardship is a significant difficulty or expensive action relative to the size, financial stature, and nature of a given operation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers guidance in its technical assistance manual. It says that a person may not directly threaten the health or safety of themselves or others. So, an employer can require as a job qualification standard that the applicant not directly threaten the health or safety of themselves or others. The measure must apply to all applicants for a particular job.

An employer must meet specific and stringent requirements under the ADA to establish that a direct threat exists. Among the rules, an employer must show that there is a significant risk of serious harm. A direct threat is a defense to the ADA for an employer.

Is Providing Reasonable Accommodations Expensive?

No. Most people with disabilities do not need any accommodations to perform their jobs. The Job Accommodation Network, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, explains that most accommodations cost nothing to carry out.

For example, allowing changes to a work schedule to accommodate medical treatment or recovery are generally considered reasonable accommodations. A modified work schedule is another reasonable accommodation. It costs nothing. Most accommodations that need a financial expenditure cost $500 or less.

What Must an Employer Provide?

Under Title I of the ADA, the employer must make facilities accessible to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities as a reasonable accommodation. An employer must make reasonable accommodations unless this would cause undue hardship.

An employer does not have to provide personal use items, like eyeglasses or wheelchairs, needed to do daily activities. But, an employer may need to give a special computer screen based on a doctor's recommended accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations for a disability may include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Modifying existing work facilities to make them accessible to disabled people (rearranging desks or cubicles, designating an accessible parking space, etc.)
  • Restructuring the job, offering a flexible schedule, the option to telecommute, or reassignment to a vacant position
  • Modifying or purchasing new equipment; modifying examinations, training guides, or workplace policies (i.e., allowing for telecommuting); and providing interpreters or qualified readers

ADA Rules for Effective Communication

The U.S. Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the ADA for Title II (state and local government services) and Title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities).

The ADA forces all Public Safety Answering Points to provide direct, equal access to their services for people with disabilities who use teletypewriters (TTYs). These are also known as telecommunications devices for deaf people.

Protections of the ADA also cover the following:

  • Medical Examinations and Inquiries — Employees and job applicants can't be asked about a disability but may be asked about their ability to perform job functions. If there are examinations, they must be in place for all employees at the company working similar jobs. An employer can also request a doctor's note outlining the requested accommodations.
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse — Applicants and employees who use illegal drugs are not covered by ADA protections, which allow drug testing. Alcoholics and drug addicts, whom the ADA may cover, can have the same performance standards as their coworkers.
  • Within the health care context, ADA rules apply to various health care providers, including those operated by private entities or governments. Health care providers must ensure that communication with people with disabilities is as effective as with people without disabilities.

More ADA Facts and Resources

The ADA offers a mechanism to file a complaint for discrimination. To learn how to file an ADA discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), see Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination.

Get Legal Advice for Your ADA Claim

The nature of your complaint determines the agency where you should file it. For issues at work relating to discrimination based on a disability, the EEOC is the agency that enforces the ADA.

The ADA allows for awarding attorney's fees and litigation costs to a prevailing defendant in a discrimination complaint when the plaintiff's claims are frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.

You should speak with a legal professional for more questions or specific concerns. If you think your disability rights have been violated, find an experienced employment law attorney near you today.

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