What should employers do to ensure people with disabilities are not discriminated against in the workplace? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines requirements for all employers.
Disability discrimination is when an employer treats an employee or applicant unfavorably because of their disability. Federal law also protects people from discrimination based on their relationship with a person with a disability (even if they do not themselves have a disability). For example, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee because her husband has a disability. While the ADA doesn’t require an employer to accommodate an employee who must care for a disabled family member, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may require an employer to take such steps.
The law forbids discrimination against employees with disabilities when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits and any other term or condition of employment. It is also illegal to harass an applicant or employee who has or has had a disability.
An employer is required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are usually done to help a person with a disability apply for or perform the duties of a job.
Reasonable accommodation might include, for example, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a screen reader for someone who is blind.
An employer doesn’t have to provide an accommodation if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, taking into consideration the employer’s size, financial resources and the needs of the business. An employer may not refuse to provide an accommodation just because it involves some cost. An employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation the employee or job applicant wants. If more than one accommodation works, the employer may choose which one to provide.
Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a national resource for employers that provides support and information about employing people with disabilities. JAN is a service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). JAN provides consulting services for all employers at no cost to the business, regardless of the size of an employer’s workforce. Services include one-on-one consultation about all aspects of job accommodations, including the accommodation process, accommodation ideas, product vendors, referrals to other resources, and ADA compliance assistance.
Employer questions about disability and medical exams
The law places strict limits on employers when it comes to asking job applicants to answer medical questions, take a medical exam or identify a disability. For example, an employer may not ask a job applicant to answer medical questions or take a medical exam before extending a job offer. An employer also may not ask job applicants if they have a disability (or about the nature of an obvious disability). An employer may ask applicants whether they can perform the job and how they would perform it in the position, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
After a position is offered to an applicant, the law allows an employer to condition the offer on the applicant answering certain medical questions or successfully passing a medical exam, but only if all new employees in the same type of position have to answer the questions or take the exam.
Once a person is hired and has started work, an employer generally can ask medical questions or require a medical exam only if the employer needs medical documentation to support an employee's request for an accommodation or if the employer believes that an employee is not able to perform a job or a job task successfully or safely because of a medical condition.
The law also requires that employers keep all medical records and information confidential and in separate medical files.
Here are some helpful resources: