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ADA Compliance

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) treats an applicant or employee with a disability unfavorably because of the disability. An employer is covered by ADA if it has 15 or more employees who worked for the employer for at least twenty calendar weeks, in the current or last year.
The law also protects people from discrimination based on their relationship with a person with a disability, even if they don't have a disability themselves. Employment disability discrimination is prohibited with respect to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
The ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense) for the employer. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment, or in the way things are usually done, to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. Reasonable accommodation might include, for example, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired. Granting an unpaid leave, for example in cases where an employee doesn't qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, can also be a form of accommodating an employee with a disability.
An employer isn't required to provide an accommodation if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer's size, financial resources, and the needs of the business. An employer may not refuse to provide an accommodation just because it involves some cost. An employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation the employee or job applicant wants. If more than one accommodation works, the employer may choose which one to provide.
Not everyone with a medical condition is protected by the ADA. In order to be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law. A person can show that he or she has a disability in one of three ways:
  • if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity, such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning
  • if he or she has a history of a disability
  • if he is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor
The ADA places strict limits on employers when it comes to asking job applicants to answer medical questions, take a medical exam, or identify a disability. For example, an employer may not ask a job applicant to answer medical questions or take a medical exam before extending a job offer. An employer also may not ask job applicants if they have a disability or about the nature of an obvious disability. However, an employer may ask job applicants whether they can perform the job and how they would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
After a job is offered to an applicant, the law allows an employer to condition the job offer on the applicant answering certain medical questions or successfully passing a medical exam, but only if all new employees in the same type of job have to answer the questions or take the exam. Once a person is hired and has started work, an employer generally can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical documentation to support an employee's request for an accommodation or if the employer believes that an employee is not able to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition.
On September 25, 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADA Amendments Act) was signed into law. The ADA Amendments Act emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally should not require extensive analysis. The ADA Amendments Act makes important changes to the definition of the term disability by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) ADA regulations. The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.
If you're an employer covered by the ADA and would like assistance in complying with the law, contact John Little, Attorney at Law, PC.