Requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act for Employers
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was passed in part to prevent employees and applicants for jobs with disabilities from being discriminated against in the hiring, payment, promotion, and firing aspects of employment. The act prohibits discrimination against otherwise qualified applicants or employees solely because of a disability. Any private employer with 15 or more employees must comply with the provisions of the ADA.
Who qualifies for protection under the ADA?
Only employees or potential employees with a disability recognized under the act are qualified for protection under the ADA. The ADA defines a disability as any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” A “major life activity” is broadly defined by Congress to mean basic tasks (like walking, reading, communicating, and bathing) or a major bodily function (like digestion, bowl and bladder function, or respiratory function). If a person’s disability does not limit a major life activity it is not considered a disability by the ADA.
Temporary conditions also do not count as disabilities under the ADA.
The person must also be considered a “qualified worker” under the act to take advantage of the protections the act offers. A qualified worker is one who is able to “perform the essential duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation by the employer.” While this seems like double speak at first, it is actually designed to offer protection to both people with a disability that would not impair their ability to perform a job and people with a disability that would only require minimal accommodation from the employer to allow the person to do the job. A “reasonable accommodation” is also a vague concept from the employer’s point of view. The act does not require the employer to make whatever accommodation the employee requests. Rather, the employer and the employee must engage in a dialogue to determine what, if any, accommodations the employer can make within reason to allow the employee, or potential employee, to be able to do the job in question. Employers are also not obligated to make accommodations that would constitute an “undue hardship” for the employer. An accommodation can be an “undue hardship” when it requires a great deal of an employer’s resources (time and financial) to implement based on the size of the business, the financial resources of the employer, and in light of any other accommodations made by the employer.
Ensuring Compliance with the ADA
The main rule to keep in mind when interviewing employees with disabilities is that an employer may ask about an employee’s or potential employee’s abilities, but not their disabilities. This means as an employer you can ask how an employee plans on completing the tasks required by a job, but not about how an applicant’s disability could limit their ability to perform the essential job functions.
While this distinction is a fine line that can be difficult to see, it is of utmost importance to make sure you comply with the ADA. Compliance allows you to hire the most qualified employees while avoiding discrimination and the legal ramifications that could come from it. The first step is to work closely with your local Burlington County business attorney to make sure your hiring practices are in compliance with the ADA and other federal laws.