Workplace discrimination lawsuits filed in federal court under the Americans with Disabilities
Act (“ADA”) have increased over the years. As a result, employers need to have a clear understanding of the ADA’s requirements and their legal obligations under the Act.
Title I of the ADA of 1990 prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.
The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person who:
- Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- Has a record of such an impairment; or
- Is regarded as having such an impairment.
The ADA further defines “a qualified employee or applicant with a disability” as an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. For example, “reasonable accommodation” may include:
- Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible and usable by persons with disabilities;
- Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.
Employers are required to make reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to enable persons with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
Accommodations will vary depending upon the particular needs of the individual applicant or employee. For example:
- A hearing-impaired applicant may need a sign language interpreter during the job interview;
- An employee with diabetes may need regularly scheduled breaks during the workday to eat properly and monitor blood sugar and insulin levels;
- An employee with cancer may need to leave work to have radiation or chemotherapy treatments.
However, an employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation if it imposes an “undue hardship.” The ADA defines “undue hardship” as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operations. In addition, an employer is not required to lower its quality or production standards to make an accommodation, nor is an employer obligated to provide personal use items such as glasses or hearing aids.
Finally, an employer generally does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless an individual with a disability has asked for one. If an employer believes that a medical condition is causing a performance or conduct problem, it may ask the employee how to solve the problem and if the employee needs a reasonable accommodation. Once a reasonable accommodation is requested, the employer and the individual should discuss the individual’s needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation. Where more than one accommodation would work, the employer may choose the one that is less costly or easier to provide.
This article is not legal advice and we suggest that you contact your HR person or an experienced labor and employment attorney to assist you in fully understanding your rights and responsibilities under the ADA.