Employers (both private and government), employment agencies and labor unions are prohibited from discriminating against otherwise qualified people with disabilities, as governed by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This covers the job application process, hiring, compensation, training, advancement, employment privileges, firing and other aspects of employment. ADA regulations apply to employers with 15 or more employees, although some state and local anti-discrimination laws may have lower thresholds.
See also ADA: Disabilities & Your Rights as an Employee for more details.
As defined by the ADA, a disabled individual is someone who:
- Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- Has a record of such an impairment; or
- Is regarded as having such an impairment (even in the absence of an actual disability)
Also, employers may not retaliate against employees or applicants who oppose or speak out against discrimination on the basis of a disability or perceived disability.
Since by definition a disability substantially limits one or more of an individual's major life activities, disabled employees may require assistance in order to adequately perform their job. Employers are not required to hire disabled individuals for whom their employment would create an undue hardship, but the ADA guarantees the right to a reasonable accommodation.
An undue hardship, according to the ADA, is an action that would be significantly difficult or expensive relative to the size, financial stature and nature of a given operation. The provision of personal use items (i.e. eyeglasses or wheelchairs) is not considered a reasonable accommodation, nor is an accommodation that would result in lower quality or production standards.
Reasonable accommodations for a disability may include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Modifying existing work facilities to make them accessible to disabled individuals (rearranging desks or cubicles, designating a handicapped parking space, etc.)
- Restructuring the job, providing a flexible schedule, the option to telecommute or reassignment to a vacant position
- Modifying or purchasing new equipment; modifying examinations, training guides or workplace policies (i.e. allowing for telecommuting) and providing interpreters or qualified readers
Additionally, protections of the ADA also cover the following:
- Medical Examinations and Inquiries - Employees and job applicants may not be asked about a disability but may be asked about their ability to perform job functions. Such medical examinations must be required for all employees at the company working similar jobs.
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse - Applicants and employees who use illegal drugs are not covered by ADA protections, which allow for drug testing. Alcoholics and drug addicts, who may be covered by the ADA, may be held to the same performance standards as their coworkers.
To learn how to file an ADA discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), see Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination.
More Information and Resources (EEOC):
- Family and Medical Leaves Act, ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - Primer on how these federal laws interact with one another.
- ADA and Employment FAQs - Answers to frequently asked employment-related ADA questions.
- Employment Rights as an Individual with a Disability - Overview of how the ADA protects disabled employees.
- Job Applicants and the ADA - How the ADA protects the rights of disabled job applicants.
- Telecommuting as a Reasonable Accommodation - Working from home as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
- Diabetes in the Workplace and the ADA FAQs - Answers to questions about the ADA and diabetes.
- Epilepsy in the Workplace and the ADA FAQs - Answers to questions about the ADA and epilepsy.