What is the ADA?
The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that applies to most businesses and organizations, including state and local government services. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and is considered a civil rights issue. The ADA prohibits discrimination of any kind, but mainly focuses on two areas of business. Accessible design is the first, and aimed at all public accommodations or businesses, and has a goal of accessibility for everyone, everywhere.
Employment and Employers Covered
The second part of the Americans with Disabilities Act focuses on employment and is the subject for discussion in this post. Employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities is against the law, and this portion of the Americans with Disabilities Act is enforced by the EEOC - Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice. It covers:
- Private employers
- State and local governments
- Employment agencies
- Labor organizations
- Labor-management committees
Employment Practices Covered
Some of the employment practices covered are things like: recruitment, training, hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotion, leave, benefits, layoff, and all other employment-related activities.
Definition of Disability
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines an individual with a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A major life activity is considered:
- Learning (cognitive thinking)
- Performing manual tasks
- Caring for oneself
Qualified Applicants Only
To be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, the person must be able to perform the essential functions of the job, either with or without reasonable accommodation. So a qualified applicant must still meet all other job requirements, for example:
- Educational background
- Employment experience
- Any other job-related qualifications or standards
- Qualified individuals must be able to perform essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation
Definition of Essential Functions
As an employer, you should carefully evaluate each position to determine which tasks are essential to performance. The reason for this is you'll need to go over each of these positions to make sure you have a current written job description of exactly what the essential functions are.
And you want to have this done before advertising for any new position you're hiring for, and before making any employment decisions. (You may need this as proof one day.) Ask yourself if each task is performing a vital function in the reason for the position in the first place, to determine essential functions.
Here is the definition of reasonable accommodation: any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits qualified job applicants or employees with disabilities to participate in the job application process, to perform essential job functions, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. This is a business necessity.
Additionally, it is a violation of the ADA not to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified job applicants or employees with known physical or mental limitations, unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the business or its operation. It is considered such a hardship if it would require significant difficulty or expense. Further, undue hardship means the accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or would alter fundamentally the nature or operation of the business. It means it would take an action requiring significant difficulty.
Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations:
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices (i.e. installing screen reading software)
- Job restructuring
- Modified work schedule (i.e. allowing qualified individuals to reduce hours temporarily, or change their schedule, or giving an individual with a disability the option to work from home)
- Reassignment to a vacant position
- Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
- Providing interpreters or sign language professionals, etc.
- Allowing an employee to bring their service animal to work with them
- Making employment provisions to the work environment to make it readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities
Other Federal Legal Requirements
Job-related and workplace discrimination is a violation of the ADA, and more importantly, is against the law and punishable by steep, 5-figure fines as well as the possibility of much worse by litigation and lawsuits. You cannot ask about an applicant's disability, and he or she cannot be denied employment based on his or her disability.
A complaint for noncompliance or for a specific violation must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination unless a state or local law makes provisions to allow monetary relief from discrimination on the basis of disability, in which case it's 300 days. Efforts of conciliatory arrangements will be made first.
If you need financial resources, legal advice, legal services, or receive federal financial assistance and need legal advice, you can get in touch with the EEOC for help. In addition, the EEOC will provide assistance for employers who want to comply and need help. ADA compliance is mandatory so please be sure you maintain the law.
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Next article: The 5 Most Common ADA Violations