One reason that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed was to recognize the valuable contributions that folks with disabilities make in the workplace. Another reason was to give them more chances to do so. However, the ADA can be a confusing area for employers when they make hiring decisions and decisions about employee accommodations. After all, employees need to be able to perform specific tasks. Here’s the lowdown on what employers need to know about this law, as well as many similar state laws.
Essentials of the ADA
ADA language boils down to this: private employers who have at least 15 workers must adhere to the ADA. These employers are not allowed to discriminate against a “qualified worker with a disability.” Employers must offer accommodations as long as they do not pose undue hardships for the employers. The ADA explains which disabilities count under the ADA, the types of workers protected, when employees must provide accommodations and what conditions count as undue hardships.
What Is a Disability Under the ADA?
While each person may have a different definition for the word “disability,” employers must follow ADA and state law definitions. Under the ADA, a person with a disability is limited in at least one major life activity. Examples include not being able to hear or communicate fully, not being able to walk and having reproductive, brain or bladder issues. Impairments that do not meaningfully restrict a person’s life are not protected under the ADA, nor are temporary conditions. Employers who need more information on what disabilities are covered should check the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The picture does get somewhat murky with disabilities such as alcoholism. A person cannot be fired for simply being an alcoholic but can be fired if he or she is unable to meet performance and behavioral standards expected of all employees. Someone who currently uses illegal drugs is not considered disabled. However, someone who used to use illegal drugs cannot be discriminated against if he or she no longer engages in such behavior. As for legal drugs, the people who use them should be accommodated to a reasonable extent.
The ADA also defines a person as having a disability if there is a history of a disability (cancer in remission, for instance) or if the employer perceives the person as having a disability even if he does not.
Reasonable accommodations are changes that an employer can make to the work environment or the job that do not lead to an undue hardship. Examples include:
- Developing a quiet work area for someone who has attention deficit disorder
- Providing interpreters in meetings for employees who are deaf
- Lowering a desk for a worker who uses a wheelchair
The employee is the person responsible for letting an employer know about a disability and must also ask for reasonable accommodations. Employers are under no obligation to guess about such accommodations. Once such a request between employee and employer has occurred, both parties should engage in constructive dialogue to come up with realistic and practical solutions.
Not all requests for accommodations can be granted. The undue hardship exception allows employers to say no if a request would significantly and negatively affect the business. Considerations that go into undue hardship include how much the accommodation would cost, the size and resources of the business, its structure and the effect of the accommodation on the company. It’s possible that you may want to consult a lawyer about if you are reasonably denying an accommodation request.As with many areas of workplace law, reasonable accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act can sometimes be a gray area. The key idea is to negotiate with employees in good faith after they bring you a request for accommodation. Both sides need to be flexible.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.