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What Do Employers Need to Know About the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Employers should understand what is required of them by the ADA and how to approach disability accommodations in the workplace.

Key takeaways:

  • What is the ADA? The ADA is a piece of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination because of someone’s disability in any part of public life.
  • What is a disability? The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who:
    • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
    • Has a record of such impairment, or
    • Is regarded as having such an impairment.
  • What do employers need to know?
    • Reasonable accommodations must be provided for people with known disabilities as long as they don’t cause undue hardship for the employer.
    • Employers cannot ask applicants about their disability.
    • Employers don’t have to give preference to people with disabilities when hiring.
    • Employers don’t have to provide accommodation unless a request is made.
    • Illegal drug abusers aren’t covered by the ADA but those addicted to alcohol are.

Legislation often arises when certain groups of people face hardships or experience discrimination, whether in professional, educational or other settings.

One such piece of legislation was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990. This law provides protections to people with disabilities in many different areas, aiming to ensure they are treated as fairly and equally as everyone else.

This guide will provide a deep dive into everything covered in the ADA and what employers need to understand and comply with from the act.

What is the purpose of the ADA?

The ADA is a piece of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with a disability. First implemented in 1990, the ADA covers qualifying individuals in many different areas of public life, including:

  • Schools
  • Workplaces
  • Transportation
  • Public and private spaces open to the public

Before this law, there were many instances of people with disabilities being treated differently than people without disabilities, so the law ensures that they have the same rights and opportunities. The ADA “guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications,” as stated on the ADA National Network website.

An amendment to the act called the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed in 2008 and became effective on January 1, 2009. This change further clarified and changed the definition of the term “disability” in the act.

According to the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
  • Has a record of such impairment, or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

What do employers need to know about the ADA?

Title I of the ADA outlines specific guidelines related to employment. It ensures that individuals with a disability have the same opportunities and benefits in the employment realm as everyone else. As an employer, it’s critical to understand these laws. The ADA applies to private employers, employment agencies, state and local governments and labor unions.

Here are a few important points to remember and implement in your employment practices:

  1. Reasonable accommodation

Title I requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. Qualified individuals are those who can perform the job’s essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations.

A reasonable accommodation is “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable an applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.” Examples would be making facilities accessible to people with disabilities, modifying work schedules or obtaining new equipment or technology to assist people in performing tasks.

Employers are required by the ADA to make reasonable accommodations for people with a disability, as long as it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. Undue hardship is an action that requires significant difficulty or cost when compared with the employer’s financial situation, size and other factors. For instance, an employer isn’t required to lower its quality standards to provide accommodation.

  1. Prohibited employer inquiries and confidentiality

By law, employers cannot ask job applicants about their disability. This includes the severity, nature or even existence of the disability. However, you can ask applicants whether they can perform functions specific to the job they’re applying for.

Similarly, any medical information or records you do obtain must be kept confidential. Qualifying information would include a worker’s request for a reasonable accommodation because of their disability.

You also can’t require a medical examination pre-job offer unless you require that examination for all employees entering into similar jobs. Note that these assessments have to be related to the position and your company’s needs.

  1. Selecting the right candidate

The ADA does not require employers to give preference to applicants with disabilities. You are free to choose the most qualified person for the job but decisions must be made based on reasons unrelated to someone’s disability.

  1. “Known” disabilities

Employers are not required or expected to know about all the different types of disabilities and make accommodations at their own discretion. Usually, someone with a disability will start accommodations discussions and requirements by submitting a request to their employer. Accommodations are only required when an employee or applicant has a “known” disability. As the EEOC states, “If the individual does not request an accommodation, the employer is not obligated to provide one.”

  1. Drug and alcohol abusers

Those addicted to alcohol and the illegal use of drugs are treated differently under the ADA. Alcohol addiction is generally considered a disability whether the use of it is in the present or the past. For those with an addiction to opioids and other drugs, the ADA only protects people in recovery who are no longer taking illegal drugs.

Implementing best practices with the right Human Resources help

Navigating complex laws like the ADA is a big undertaking for employers. You never want to miss any provision when creating your HR policies and hiring guidelines. When you need assistance, work with the knowledgeable and professional team at StaffLink Outsourcing.

We are a national Professional Employer Organization and step in to assist HR departments with benefits, payroll, risk management and other HR solutions. We provide flexibility and customization so you get the help you need when you need it. We can assist you in walking through the ADA and accommodation requests to ensure compliance.

Request a proposal or contact us at (954) 423-8262 for more information.