Compliance with employment laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is an important part of running a business. Signed into law in 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment. As approximately one in four adults in this country live with a disability, it is inevitable that employers will face disability law issues with current or prospective employees. Careful planning and understanding of the detailed regulations of the ADA is key to employer compliance.
The ADA prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. The federal law also:
Restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made
Requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities
Does the ADA Apply to My Business?
Title I of the ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. The law protects the rights of both employees and job seekers.
Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not covered by the employment provisions of the ADA. In addition, a covered employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause an “undue hardship,” which is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense. Stay tuned for future blog posts discussing undue hardship.
What are my ADA Compliance Responsibilities?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for ADA compliance. As an employer, your responsibilities under the law will depend on the size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of your organization’s operation. A key aspect of ADA compliance is the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job applicants with disabilities. An experienced employment law practice can advise your business on ADA compliance issues and obligations.
A reasonable accommodation is defined as a “modification” to a job, work environment or the way work is performed, that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of the job, and enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.
Examples of accommodations include:
Physical changes, such as installing a ramp, modifying a restroom or the layout of a workspace
Accessible and assistive technologies, such as ensuring computer software is accessible, providing screen reader software, or using videophones to facilitate communications with colleagues who are deaf
Accessible communications, such as providing sign language interpreters or closed captioning at meetings and events, or making materials available in Braille or large print
Policy enhancements, such as modifying a policy to allow a service animal in a business setting, or adjusting work schedules so employees with chronic medical conditions can go to medical appointments and complete their work at alternate times or locations
Many job accommodations are inexpensive and involve minor changes to a work environment, schedule or work-related technologies. Moreover, many accommodations, sometimes referred to as “productivity enhancers” benefit all employees. For example, facility enhancements such as ramps and ergonomic workstations benefit more than just employees with disabilities.
Can I Ask a Potential or Current Employee About Their Disability?
The ADA places limits on when and why employers may ask job applicants and employees medical- or disability-related questions. While employers may ask whether applicants believe they can perform the essential functions of the job (with or without a reasonable accommodation), and, if so, how they would do so, employers may not ask job applicants:
To answer medical questions
To take medical exams
To identify disabilities
Whether they have a disability or the nature of a known disability.
Employers may make a job offer contingent upon the answers to certain medical questions or successful passage of a medical exam, as long as the questions or exams are consistent with a business need and all new employees in the same type of job are required to answer the questions or take the exam.
As to current employees, employers generally can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if documentation is needed to support an employee’s request for an accommodation, or the employer believes that an employee is unable to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition. Lastly, if an employer believes that a medical condition is causing a performance or conduct problem, it is okay to ask the employee whether they need a reasonable accommodation.
What are the Potential Consequences Non-Compliance with the ADA?