The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal civil rights law that applies to people with disabilities, and it protects them from discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal government agency, enforces the sections of the ADA that prohibit employment discrimination.
The employment provisions of the ADA apply to businesses that have 15 or more employees on the payroll, including full- and part-time employees. The ADA protects a person with a disability who is qualified for the job. These are some of the key provisions:
- The ADA defines a current disability as a medical condition or disorder called “an impairment” that substantially limits a person in doing basic activities called “major life activities.”
- The ADA protects a person who has a record of a disability or is regarded as having a disability.
- Examples of impairments include hearing loss, limited eyesight or loss of a limb.
- For an impairment to be serious enough to be an ADA disability, it must substantially limit such major life activities as walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, sitting, standing, lifting, learning and thinking.
The ADA lets the employer hire the most qualified person for the job, regardless of disability. To be qualified, a person with a disability must meet certain standards. Employees requesting accommodations must:
- Meet job-related requirements by having the required education, experience, skills and licenses.
- Be able to perform the job’s essential functions—duties that are central to the job—with or without a reasonable accommodation.
- Understand that a reasonable accommodation is a change in the job application process or in the way a job is performed that enables a person with a disability to have equal employment opportunities. This means being able to take part in such activities as employer-sponsored training, benefits and social events.
- Make a request for the reasonable accommodation themselves, or authorize a health provider, relative, friend or another representative to make the request.
- Communicate to the employer that a change at work is required for a reason related to a medical condition. If a representative makes the request, the employer should discuss the matter with the worker as soon as possible.
Employees don’t have to make the request in writing—it can be oral, or through a sign language interpreter. Employers must consider the request for accommodation as soon as it is made.
You need to take the request seriously and treat it as a first step in finding an effective accommodation, but you’re not always required to give employees exactly what they are asking for. You don’t have to provide a reasonable accommodation if doing so would be an undue hardship—for example, if it would create significant difficulty or expense, significant disruption of business, or especially if the accommodation would change the basic nature of your business. You have to decide whether there is another accommodation that’s less difficult or less expensive.
In each case, you and your employee can work together to figure out whether there’s an accommodation that will allow the employee to do the job. The Job Accommodation Network provides lists of accommodations based on specific disabilities, as well as links to various other accommodations providers at www.jan.wvu.edu. Flexibility and an understanding of the ADA’s provisions are key to a resolution that keeps both the employer and the employee happy with the outcome.