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:
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:
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:
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:
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
Additional Questions and Answers About the ADA
Q. Is an employer required to provide reasonable accommodation when an employer applies for a job?
Q. Should a person with a disability tell his/her employer that he/she has a disability?
Q. Does a person with a disability have to pay for a needed reasonable accommodation?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Q. Can an employer offer a health insurance policy that excludes coverage for pre-existing conditions?
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?
Q. An individual thinks they were discriminated against because their spouse is disabled. Can the individual file a charge with the EEOC?
Q. Are people with AIDS covered by the ADA?
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