The Americans with Disabilities Act (also known as the ADA) came into force in 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities who wish to access employment, accommodations, transportation and various programs and services. The Office of Disability Employment Policy offers publications and assistance to the public on the basic requirements of the federal disability act, including the obligations placed on employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and qualified job applicants with disabilities. The provisions of the ADA apply to private employers, employment agencies and both State and local governments with 15 or more employees.
The ADA prohibits discrimination in all areas of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, training and advancement opportunities. Discrimination is prohibited against any qualified individual with a disability. Persons who have a known relationship or association with a disabled individual also are protected under the ADA. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as someone who is physically or mentally impaired in such a way that they are drastically limited in major life activities.
It is important to note that an employer does not have to give preference to a qualified disabled applicant over other applicants without disabilities. The employer is free to choose the best qualified applicant and to make decisions based on any reasons unrelated to an individual’s disability.
The ADA requires all employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled job applicants or employees who become disabled in the course of the job. Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to the work environment or job that will enable a qualified disabled applicant or disabled employee to participate fully in the recruitment process or perform the necessary job functions. This also includes any adjustments to ensure that disabled individuals have the same employment rights and privileges as non-disabled employees. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include installing a ramp so that persons in wheelchairs can access a building, or providing the Employee Code of Conduct in braille format for a blind employee.
An employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation if doing so will impose an undue hardship on the employer. The ADA defines an undue hardship as any action that may require significant expense or difficulty to implement when considering factors such as the employer’s size, structure and financial resources. Employers are not required to lower their product quality or service standards to accommodate a disabled person, nor are they obligated to provide items such as hearing aids or glasses for a disabled individual’s personal use.
An employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it is requested by the disabled individual. If an employer is concerned that a medical condition is causing problems with a disabled employee’s performance or conduct, it may discuss with the employee various ways to solve the problem and inquire whether an accommodation is needed. Once requested, the employer and the disabled individual should discuss the individual’s specific needs and identify solutions. Where more than one accommodation may be appropriate, the employer may choose the option that is less costly or easier to provide.