Employment Discrimination Blog

Monday, July 23, 2012

Laws about Employment Discrimination for Disabled Individuals


Under federal law, discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited in all employment practices. Disabled individuals are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA). By law, covered employers (those employing more than 15 employees), as well as all state and local governments, cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in employment. The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee or a job applicant with a disability, unless it would cause undue hardship to the employer.


What qualifies as a disability for the ADA?

Under the ADA, a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and has a record of such impairment, is considered as having a disability. Major life activities are basic activities that most people can perform without difficulty, such as breathing, eating, walking, hearing, speaking, seeing and learning. Major life activities also include basic bodily functions such as cell growth, brain functions, and neurological and endocrine functions.


Who is a “Qualified” Employee or Job Applicant?

An individual with a disability is “qualified” if he or she satisfies skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position held or desired, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of that position. Obviously, a person who was paralyzed would not be qualified for a job that required lots of lifting, but may be qualified for a job as an administrative assistant.


What is Reasonable Accommodation?

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to a qualified disabled employee or applicant. Reasonable accommodation may include making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities; job restructuring; modification of work schedules; providing additional unpaid leave; reassignment to a vacant position; acquiring or modifying equipment or devices; adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies; and providing qualified readers or interpreters. However, an employer is not required to lower production standards to make an accommodation.


Undue Hardship

An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer's business. Undue hardship means an action that requires significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to factors such as a business' size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.


Prohibited Inquiries and Examinations

Before offering a job applicant a job, an employer may not ask about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability.  Generally, applicants may be asked about their ability to perform job functions. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all entering employees in the same job category. Medical examinations of employees must be job-related and consistent with necessity.

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