The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, can sometimes be a confusing law for employers and employees alike. It applies to private and government employers as well as labor unions and employment agencies. These employers cannot discriminate against folks with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for positions under ADA, and the law covers employment processes such as job applications, hiring, compensation, training, promotion and firing. Here is a look at essential ADA facts that employers need to know.
1. Essential Job Functions Really Are Essential to Identify
Essential job functions are job responsibilities that are, well, essential to the job. An employee who cannot perform these functions with or without a reasonable accommodation is not considered qualified, and ADA does not apply to these folks. On the other hand, someone who is qualified, having the required education, certifications and experience, is able to perform essential functions even if the person needs accommodation.
The takeaway here is that employers must identify job functions that are essential as opposed to nonessential. They should consider factors such as which tasks are high priority in job descriptions, how much of the position is spent carrying out that function, what other employees in the same position do, the consequences of not being able to carry out that function, and the required skill to perform it. For a police officer, essential functions typically include the ability to carry and use a gun, and for a pilot, they include being able to fly.
2. Reasonable Job Accommodations Are Typically Required
Employers must provide reasonable job accommodations to employees with disabilities, unless it leads to an undue hardship. Here is a list of common reasonable accommodations.
•Modifying desk heights for people in wheelchairs
•Adding telephone communications equipment for employees who are deaf
•Changing shifts so that someone can work 10 hours a day for four weeks to get medical treatments
•Hiring interpreters for employees who are deaf
However, even these common accommodations might pose an undue hardship for some employers. For example, some businesses might truly not be able to hire interpreters on a regular basis. To make the case for undue hardship, an employer must consider its financial resources, the type of proposed accommodation, how much it costs and how much the employer has already spent on accommodations in the workplace. However, courts typically do not accept undue hardship complaints based only on financial grounds; for example, employers are expected to know about tax credits to offset an accommodation and should work with an employee who is willing to shoulder at least part of the cost.
3. Accommodations Require Flexibility on Both Ends
It is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer of the need for an accommodation. For example, a person who is deaf and who wants an interpreter for staff meetings should put in a request to have one at each staff meeting.
Employers are also not required to comply with each accommodation request exactly as outlined. For example, an employee might prefer a certain accommodation, but an employer knows of a less costly way to meet that need and proposes it instead. There is a lot of room for negotiation and the middle ground. Compromise is often key when it comes to accommodations; employers should work in good faith.
4. Some Disability Cases Are Unusual
ADA aims to cover employees who have one or more major life activities significantly restricted due to an impairment, those who have a record of a qualifying impairment even if they currently do not have one and those who are perceived as having an impairment even if they do not have one. For example, a man with a lengthy history of cancer treatments but who is currently cancer free is probably covered.
ADA does not cover people who currently use drugs illegally and who claim that as a disability, but it tends to apply in cases where people used to have addiction issues and have undergone rehabilitation. The key is to look at whether an employee is capable of upholding the same performance requirements as their peer employees.
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