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The Americans with Disabilities Act: Employment Rights of Individuals with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability. The ADA also outlaws discrimination against individuals with disabilities in state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications. This information explains the part of the ADA that prohibits job discrimination. This part of the law is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state and local civil rights enforcement agencies that work with the Commission.
What Employers Are Covered by the ADA?
Job discrimination against people with disabilities is illegal if practiced by:
- private employers,
- state and local governments,
- employment agencies,
- labor organizations, and
- labor-management committees.
The part of the ADA enforced by the EEOC outlaws job discrimination by all employers, including state and local government employers, with 15 or more employees (note: under Massachusetts law, the ADA applies to employers with six or more employees).
Who Is Protected by The ADA?
If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, the ADA protects you from job discrimination on the basis of your disability. Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects you if you have a history of such a disability, or if an employer believes that you have such a disability, even if you do not.
To be protected under the ADA, you must have, have a record of, or be regarded as having a substantial, as opposed to a minor, impairment. A substantial impairment is one that significantly limits or restricts a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning or working.
If you have a disability, you must also be qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, in order to be protected from job discrimination by the ADA. This means two things:
- First, you must satisfy the employers requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills or licenses.
- Second, you must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job.
What is Reasonable Accommodation?
Reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. For example, reasonable accommodation may include:
- providing or modifying equipment or devices
- job restructuring
- part-time or modified work schedules
- reassignment to a vacant position
- adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
- providing readers and interpreters
- making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.
An employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless the employer can show that the accommodation would be an undue hardship that is, that it would require significant difficulty or expense.
What Employment Practices are Covered?
The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate in all employment practices such as:
- job assignments
- lay off
- all other employment related activities.
It is also unlawful for an employer to retaliate against a person with a disability for asserting his or her rights under the ADA. The ADA also protects you if you are a victim of discrimination because of your family, business, social or other relationship or association with an individual with a disability.
Can an Employer Require Medical Examinations or Ask Questions About a Disability?
If you are applying for a job, an employer cannot ask you if you are disabled or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. An employer can ask if you can perform the duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer can also ask you to describe or to demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodation, you will perform the duties of the job.
An employer cannot require you to take a medical examination before you are offered a job. Following a job offer, an employer can condition the offer on your passing a required medical examination, but only if all entering employees for that job category have to take the examination. However, an employer cannot reject you because of information about your disability revealed by the medical examination, unless the reasons for rejection are job-related and necessary for the conduct of the employers business. Nor can the employer refuse to hire you because of your disability if you can perform the essential functions of the job with an accommodation.
Once you have been hired and started work, your employer cannot require that you take a medical examination or ask questions about your disability unless they are related to your job and necessary for the conduct of your employers business. Your employer may conduct voluntary medical examinations that are part of an employee health program, and may provide medical information required by state workers compensation laws to the agencies that administer such laws. The results of all medical examinations must be kept confidential, and maintained in separate medical files.
Do Individuals Who Use Drugs Illegally Have Rights Under the ADA?
Anyone who is currently using drugs illegally is not protected by the ADA and may be denied employment or fired on the basis of such use. The ADA does not prevent employers from testing applicants or employees for current illegal drug use.
What Does A Person With A Disability Do If They Think They Are Being Discriminated Against?
If you think you have been discriminated against in employment on the basis of disability you should contact the EEOC. A charge of discrimination generally must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. You may have up to 300 days to file a charge if there is a state or local law that provides relief for discrimination on the basis of disability. However, to protect your rights, it is best to contact EEOC promptly if discrimination is suspected.
You may file a charge of discrimination on the basis of disability by contacting any EEOC field office, located in cities throughout the United States. If you have been discriminated against, you are entitled to a remedy that will place you in the position you would have been in if the discrimination had never occurred. You may be entitled to hiring, promotion, reinstatement, back pay, or reasonable accommodation, including reassignment. You may also be entitled to attorneys fees.
While the EEOC can only process ADA charges based on actions occurring on or after July 26, 1992, you may already be protected by state or local laws or by other current federal laws. EEOC field offices can refer you to the agencies that enforce those laws. To contact the EEOC, look in your telephone directory under U.S. Government. For information and instructions on reaching your local office, call:
Voice: (202) 663-4900; TDD: (800) 800-3302
(In the Washington, D.C. 202 Area Code, call 202-663-4494 (TDD)
Additional Questions and Answers About the ADA
Q. Is an employer required to provide reasonable accommodation when an employer applies for a job?
A. Yes. Applicants, as well as employees, are entitled to reasonable accommodation. For example, an employer may be required to provide a sign language interpreter during a job interview for an applicant who is deaf or hard of hearing unless to do so would impose an undue hardship.
Q. Should a person with a disability tell his/her employer that he/she has a disability?
A. If you think you will need a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions, you should inform the employer that an accommodation will be needed. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation only for the physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability of which they are aware. Generally, it is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.
Q. Does a person with a disability have to pay for a needed reasonable accommodation?
A. No. The ADA requires that the employer provide the accommodation unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employers business. If the cost of providing the needed accommodation would be an undue hardship, the employee must be given the choice of providing the accommodation or paying for the portion of the accommodation that causes the undue hardship.
Q. Can an employer lower a person with a disabilitys salary or pay an individual less than other employees doing the same job because a person with a disability needs a reasonable accommodation?
A. No. An employer cannot make up the cost of providing a reasonable accommodation by lowering your salary or paying you less than other employees in similar positions.
Q. Does an employer have to make non-work areas used by employees, such as cafeterias, lounges, or employer-provided transportation accessible to people with disabilities?
A. Yes. The requirement to provide reasonable accommodation covers all services, programs, and non-work facilities provided by the employer. If making an existing facility accessible would be an undue hardship, the employer must provide a comparable facility that will enable a person with a disability to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment similar to those enjoyed by other employees, unless to do so would be an undue hardship.
Q. If an employer has several qualified applicants for a job, is the employer required to select a qualified applicant with a disability over other applicants without a disability?
A. No. The ADA does not require that an employer hire an applicant with a disability over other applicants because the person has a disability. The ADA only prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It makes it unlawful to refuse to hire a qualified applicant with a disability because of the disability or because a reasonable accommodation is required to make it possible for this person to perform essential job functions.
Q. Can an employer refuse to hire a person with a disability because he believes that it would be unsafe, because of the disability, for the individual to work with certain machinery required to perform the essential functions of the job?
A. The ADA permits an employer to refuse to hire an individual if he/she poses a direct threat to the health or safety of him/herself or others. A direct threat means a significant risk of substantial harm. The determination that there is a direct threat must be based on objective, factual evidence regarding an individuals present ability to perform essential functions of a job. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because of a slightly increased risk or because of fears that there might be a significant risk sometime in the future. The employer must also consider whether a risk can be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level with a reasonable accommodation.
Q. Can an employer offer a health insurance policy that excludes coverage for pre-existing conditions?
A. Yes. The ADA does not affect pre-existing condition clauses contained in health insurance policies even though such clauses may adversely affect employees with disabilities more than other employees.
Q. If the health insurance offered by a person with a disabilitys employer does not cover all of the medical expenses related to the disability, does the company have to obtain additional coverage for a person with a disability?
A. No. The ADA only requires that an employer provide employees with disabilities equal access to whatever health insurance coverage is offered to other employees.
Q. An individual thinks they were discriminated against because their spouse is disabled. Can the individual file a charge with the EEOC?
A. Yes. The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against an individual, whether he/she has a disability, or not, because of a relationship or association with an individual with a known disability.
Q. Are people with AIDS covered by the ADA?
A. Yes. The legislative history indicates that Congress intended the ADA to protect persons with AIDS and HIV disease from discrimination.
This booklet is available in Braille, large print, audiotape and electronic file on computer disk. To obtain accessible formats call the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity at (202) 663-4395 (voice) or (202) 663-4399 (TDD), or write to this office at 1801 L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20507.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The full text of this material is available at: www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html
Copies of this material in booklet form are available from:
Publications Information Center
P.O. Box 12549
Cincinnati, OH 45212-0549
Voice: (800) 669-3362; TTY: (800) 800-3302
Web site: www.eeoc.gov/eeoinfo.html