Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, private and government employers, labor unions and employment organizations are legally barred from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. This act was passed to protect qualified professionals who were unjustly turned away from positions due to their disability. With this act in place, workers are guaranteed equal opportunity and may be entitled to certain accommodations depending on the situation.
ADA Definition of Disability
This prohibition of discrimination applies to all aspects of the employment process, from the initial application to professional advancement opportunities. Working on the federal level, the ADA applies to enterprises with 15 or more hired employees. However, state or local regulations may have lower employee thresholds. The ADA defines disabled individuals as those who
- Have mental or physical impairments that significantly impact the performance of one or more important life activities.
- Have a record of significantly mental or physical impairment.
- Are commonly regarded as having a significantly mental or physical impairment (even if there is no documentation to prove such or an actual disability).
Additionally, under the ADA, the disabled person seeking employment must be otherwise qualified for the position. Furthermore, the person should be able to perform the position’s most essential functions. However, they may be entitled to accommodations to aid impairments that target movement, manual tasks and other important life actions.
What Is Undue Hardship?
By the ADA’s definition, disability inhibits an individual’s ability to perform major life activities, and employers are not obligated to hire disabled persons if it would create undue hardship. The ADA defines undue hardship as any actions that might be extremely difficult or expensive relative to the employer’s resources. Depending on the case, the disabled person may be entitled to certain accommodations, but these accommodations exclude items for personal use (like wheelchairs) and any action that would result in reduced production standards.
Common Reasonable Accommodations
As long as the actions do not result in undue hardship, many disabled persons are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. These workplace changes or adjustments are designed to aid the disabled person in successfully accomplishing the duties of the position and maintain the same benefits non-disabled employees enjoy. Common accommodations include
- Modifying existing facilities: Employers might rearrange furniture, designate a handicapped parking space, install a wheelchair accessible ramp, etc. to make the space more accessible.
- Position restructuring: Employers may add schedule flexibility, offer a telecommuting option or reassign the individual to a vacant position.
- Modifying workplace policies: Employers may rework training policies or other internal policies to accommodate the individual. These changes may be as simple as adding a section in the training guide about telecommuting.
Reasonable accommodations may vary depending on the unique needs of the disabled person and position.
Other Protections Offered Through the ADA
The ADA is an expansive document and it serves to protect many important rights for disabled persons. In addition to reasonable accommodations, the ADA offers these protections:
- Medical exams and other inquiries: As an employer, you cannot ask your employees about their disability. Instead, you may ask about their ability to perform the normal job functions. Any medical examinations must be mandatory for all company employees in similar capacities.
- Substance Abuse: The ADA does not cover illegal drug use or substance abuse. Any substance abusers who may be otherwise covered under the ADA should be held to identical performance standards as their peers.
The ADA is designed to help disabled persons secure the rights they deserve. If you have or plan to have disabled employees, be sure to familiarize yourself with these regulations and prepare to make some changes to your work environment. When in doubt, check with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and work with your new hires to address their needs.
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