The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.
Title I – Employment
- Helps people with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities.
- Applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
- Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities so they can do the job without causing the employer “undue hardship” (too much difficulty or expense).
- Defines disability, establishes guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process, and addresses medical examinations and inquiries.
- Regulated and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm
Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she has a disability. Learn more about the Act at ADA at 25.
Disability discrimination also occurs when a covered employer or other entity treats an applicant or employee less favorably because she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is controlled or in remission) or because she is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if she does not have such an impairment).
The law requires an employer 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 (“undue hardship”).
The 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.
Note: Federal employees and applicants are covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, instead of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The protections are mostly the same.
Disability Discrimination & Work Situations
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Disability Discrimination & Harassment
It is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because he has a disability, had a disability in the past, or is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).
Harassment can include, for example, offensive remarks about a person’s disability. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Disability Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation
The law requires an employer 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 a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.
Reasonable accommodation might include, for example, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired.
While the federal anti-discrimination laws don’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 Department of Labor enforces the FMLA. For more information, call: 1-866-487-9243.
Disability Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation & Undue Hardship
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, in light of 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.
Definition Of Disability
Not everyone with a medical condition is protected by the law. In order to be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law.
A person can show that he or she has a disability in one of three ways:
- A person may be disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning).
- A person may be disabled if he or she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission).
- A person may be disabled if he is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).
Disability & Medical Exams During Employment Application & Interview Stage
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 job applicants whether they can perform the job and how they would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Disability & Medical Exams After A Job Offer For Employment
After a job is offered to an applicant, the law allows an employer to condition the job 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 job have to answer the questions or take the exam.
Disability & Medical Exams For Persons Who Have Started Working As Employees
Once a person is hired and has started work, an employer generally can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam 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 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.
Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment and requires that covered employers (employers with 15 or more employees) provide reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees with disabilities that require such accommodations due to their disabilities.
A reasonable accommodation is, generally, “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” That can include making modifications to existing leave policies and providing leave when needed for a disability, even where an employer does not offer leave to other employees. As with any other accommodation, the goal of providing leave as an accommodation is to afford employees with disabilities equal employment opportunities.
The EEOC continues to receive charges indicating that some employers may be unaware of Commission positions about leave and the ADA. For example, some employers may not know that they may have to modify policies that limit the amount of leave employees can take when an employee needs additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. Employer policies that require employees on extended leave to be 100 percent healed or able to work without restrictions may deny some employees reasonable accommodations that would enable them to return to work. Employers also sometimes fail to consider reassignment as an option for employees with disabilities who cannot return to their jobs following leave.
This document seeks to provide general information to employers and employees regarding when and how leave must be granted for reasons related to an employee’s disability in order to promote voluntary compliance with the ADA. It is consistent with the EEOC’s regulations enforcing Title I of the ADA, as well as the EEOC’s 2002 Revised Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (a link to the Guidance appears at the end of this document).
Return to Work and Reasonable Accommodation (Including Reassignment)
Employees on leave for a disability may request reasonable accommodation in order to return to work. The request may be made by the employee, or it may be made in a doctor’s note releasing the employee to return to work with certain restrictions.
100% Healed Policies
An employer will violate the ADA if it requires an employee with a disability to have no medical restrictions — that is, be “100%” healed or recovered — if the employee can perform her job with or without reasonable accommodation unless the employer can show providing the needed accommodations would cause an undue hardship. Similarly, an employer will violate the ADA if it claims an employee with medical restrictions poses a safety risk but it cannot show that the individual is a “direct threat.” Direct threat is the ADA standard for determining whether an employee’s disability poses a “significant risk of substantial harm” to self or to others. If an employee’s disability poses a direct threat, an employer must consider whether reasonable accommodation will eliminate or diminish the direct threat.
Example 13: A clerk has been out on medical leave for 16 weeks for surgery to address a disability. The employee’s doctor releases him to return to work but with a 20-pound lifting restriction. The employer refuses to allow the employee to return to work with the lifting restriction, even though the employee’s essential and marginal functions do not require lifting 20 pounds. The employer’s action violates the ADA because the employee can perform his job and he does not pose a direct threat.
Example 14: An employee with a disability requests and is granted two months of medical leave for her disability. Three days after returning to work she requests as reasonable accommodations for her disability an ergonomic chair, adjusted lighting in her office, and a part-time schedule for eight days. In response, the company requires the employee to continue on leave and informs her that she cannot return to work until she is able to work full-time with no restrictions or accommodations. The employer may not prohibit the employee from returning to work solely because she needs reasonable accommodations (though the employer may deny the requested accommodations if they cause an undue hardship). If the employee requires reasonable accommodations to enable her to perform the essential functions of her job and the accommodations requested (or effective alternatives) do not cause an undue hardship, the employer’s requirement violates the ADA.
Issues Related to the Interactive Process and Return to Work
If an employee returns from a leave of absence with restrictions from his or her doctor, the employer may ask why the restrictions are required and how long they may be needed, and it may explore with the employee and his doctor (or other health care professional) possible accommodations that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job consistent with the doctor’s recommended limitations. In some situations, there may be more than one way to meet a medical restriction.
Example 15: An employee with a disability has been out on leave for three months. The employee’s doctor releases her to return to work, but imposes a medical restriction requiring her to take a 15-minute break every 90 minutes. Taking a rest break is a form of reasonable accommodation. When the employer asks the purpose of the break, the doctor explains that the employee needs to sit for 15 minutes after standing and walking for 90 minutes. The employer asks if the employee could do seated work during the break; the doctor says yes. To comply with the ADA, the employer rearranges when certain marginal functions are performed so that the employee can perform those job duties when seated and therefore not take the 15-minute break.
If necessary, an employer should initiate the interactive process upon receiving a request for reasonable accommodation from an employee on leave for a disability who wants to return to work (or after receiving a doctor’s note outlining work restrictions). Some issues that may need to be explored include:
- the specific accommodation(s) an employee requires;
- the reason an accommodation or work restriction is needed (that is, the limitations that prevent an employee from returning to work without reasonable accommodation);
- the length of time an employee will need the reasonable accommodation;
- possible alternative accommodations that might effectively meet the employee’s disability-related needs; and
- whether any of the accommodations would cause an undue hardship.
In some situations, the requested reasonable accommodation will be reassignment to a new job because the disability prevents the employee from performing one or more essential functions of the current job, even with a reasonable accommodation, or because any accommodation in the current job would result in undue hardship. The Commission takes the position that if reassignment is required, an employer must place the employee in a vacant position for which he is qualified, without requiring the employee to compete with other applicants for open positions. Reassignment does not include promotion, and generally an employer does not have to place someone in a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation when another employee is entitled to the position under a uniformly-applied seniority system.
Example 16: A medical assistant in a hospital required leave as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. Her doctor clears her to return to work but requires that she permanently use a cane when standing and walking. The employee realizes that she cannot perform significant parts of her job while using a cane and requests a reassignment to a vacant position for which she is qualified. The hospital violates the ADA if it fires the employee rather than reassigning her to a vacant position for which she is qualified and in which she could perform the essential functions while using a cane.
When assessing whether to grant leave as a reasonable accommodation, an employer may consider whether the leave would cause an undue hardship. If it would, the employer does not have to grant the leave. Determination of whether providing leave would result in undue hardship may involve consideration of the following:
- the amount and/or length of leave required (for example, four months, three days per week, six days per month, four to six days of intermittent leave for one month, four to six days of intermittent leave each month for six months, leave required indefinitely, or leave without a specified or estimated end date);
- the frequency of the leave (for example, three days per week, three days per month, every Thursday);
- whether there is any flexibility with respect to the days on which leave is taken (for example, whether treatment normally provided on a Monday could be provided on some other day during the week);
- whether the need for intermittent leave on specific dates is predictable or unpredictable (for example, the specific day that an employee needs leave because of a seizure is unpredictable; intermittent leave to obtain chemotherapy is predictable);
- the impact of the employee’s absence on coworkers and on whether specific job duties are being performed in an appropriate and timely manner (for example, only one coworker has the skills of the employee on leave and the job duties involved must be performed under a contract with a specific completion date, making it impossible for the employer to provide the amount of leave requested without over-burdening the coworker, failing to fulfill the contract, or incurring significant overtime costs); and
- the impact on the employer’s operations and its ability to serve customers/clients appropriately and in a timely manner, which takes into account, for example, the size of the employer.
In many instances an employee (or the employee’s doctor) can provide a definitive date on which the employee can return to work (for example, October 1). In some instances, only an approximate date (for example, “sometime during the end of September” or “around October 1”) or range of dates (for example, between September 1 and September 30) can be provided. Sometimes, a projected return date or even a range of return dates may need to be modified in light of changed circumstances, such as where an employee’s recovery from surgery takes longer than expected. None of these situations will necessarily result in undue hardship, but instead must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. However, indefinite leave — meaning that an employee cannot say whether or when she will be able to return to work at all – will constitute an undue hardship, and so does not have to be provided as a reasonable accommodation.
In assessing undue hardship on an initial request for leave as a reasonable accommodation or a request for leave beyond that which was originally granted, the employer may take into account leave already taken — whether pursuant to a workers’ compensation program, the FMLA (or similar state or local leave law), an employer’s leave program, or leave provided as a reasonable accommodation.
Example 17: An employee has exhausted her FMLA leave but requires 15 additional days of leave due to her disability. In determining whether an undue hardship exists, the employer may consider the impact of the 12 weeks of FMLA leave already granted and the additional impact on the employer’s operations in granting three more weeks of leave.
Example 18: An employee has exhausted both his FMLA leave and the additional eight weeks of leave available under the employer’s leave program, but requires another four weeks of leave due to his disability. In determining whether an undue hardship exists, the employer may consider the impact of the 20 weeks of leave already granted and the additional impact on the employer’s operations in granting four more weeks of leave.
Example 19: An employer not covered by the FMLA initially grants an employee intermittent leave for a disability. After six months, the employer realizes that the employee is using far more leave than expected and asks for medical documentation to explain the additional use of leave and the outlook for the next six months. The documentation reveals that the employee could need as much leave in the coming six months as he already used. As a result of the increased number of absences, the employer has had to postpone meetings necessary to complete a project for one of the employer’s clients, in turn causing delays in meeting the client’s needs. In addition, the employer has had to reallocate some of the employee’s job duties, resulting both in increased workloads and changes in work priorities for coworkers that are interfering with meeting the needs of other clients. Based on this information, the employer determines that additional intermittent leave as described in the doctor’s letter would be an undue hardship.
Leave as a reasonable accommodation includes the right to return to the employee’s original position. However, if an employer determines that holding open the job will cause an undue hardship, then it must consider whether there are alternatives that permit the employee to complete the leave and return to work.
Example 20: An employer is not covered under the FMLA. An employee with a disability requires 16 weeks of leave as a reasonable accommodation. The employer determines that it can grant the request and hold open the job. However, due to unforeseen circumstances that arise after seven weeks of leave, the employer determines that it would be an undue hardship to continue holding the job open. The job is filled within three weeks by promoting a qualified employee. Meanwhile, the employer determines that the employee on leave is qualified for the now-vacant position of the promoted employee and that the job can be held open until the employee returns to work in six weeks. The employer explains the situation to the employee with a disability and offers the newly-vacant position as a reasonable accommodation.
THE ADA: YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS AN EMPLOYER
Since The Americans with Disabilities Act: Your Responsibilities as an Employer was published, the Supreme Court has ruled that the determination of whether a person has an ADA “disability” must take into consideration whether the person is substantially limited in performing a major life activity when using a mitigating measure. This means that if a person has little or no difficulty performing any major life activity because s/he uses a mitigating measure, then that person will not meet the ADA’s first definition of “disability.” The Supreme Court’s rulings were in Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., 527 U.S. ____ (1999), and Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 527 U.S. ____ (1999).
As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, this document’s guidance on mitigating measures, found in the section “Additional Questions and Answers on the Americans with Disabilities Act,” is superseded. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, whether a person has an ADA “disability” is determined by taking into account the positive and negative effects of mitigating measures used by the individual. The Supreme Court’s ruling does not change anything else in this document.
For more information on the Supreme Court rulings and their impact on determining whether specific individuals meet the definition of “disability,” consult the Instructions for Field Offices: Analyzing ADA Charges After Supreme Court Decisions Addressing “Disability” and “Qualified,” which can be found on EEOC’s website at www.eeoc.gov.
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 booklet 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 and State and local civil rights enforcement agencies that work with the Commission.
ARE YOU COVERED?
Job discrimination against people with disabilities is illegal if practiced by:
- private employers,
- state and local governments,
- employment agencies,
- labor organizations, and
- labor-management committees.
The part of the ADA enforced by the EEOC outlaws job discrimination by:
- all employers, including State and local government employers, with 25 or more employees after July 26, 1992, and
- all employers, including State and local government employers, with 15 or more employees after July 26, 1994.
Another part of the ADA, enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice, prohibits discrimination in State and local government programs and activities, including discrimination by all State and local governments, regardless of the number of employees, after January 26, 1992.
Because the ADA establishes overlapping responsibilities in both EEOC and DOJ for employment by State and local governments, the Federal enforcement effort will be coordinated by EEOC and DOJ to avoid duplication in investigative and enforcement activities. In addition, since some private and governmental employers are already covered by nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, EEOC, DOJ, and the Department of Labor will similarly coordinate the enforcement effort under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.
WHAT EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES ARE COVERED?
The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate in all employment practices such as:
- job assignments
- all other employment related activities.
The ADA prohibits an employer from retaliating against an applicant or employee for asserting his rights under the ADA. The Act also makes it unlawful to discriminate against an applicant or employee, whether disabled or not, because of the individual’s family, business, social or other relationship or association with an individual with a disability.
WHO IS PROTECTED?
Title I of the ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination. Under the ADA, a person has a disability if he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects individuals who have a record of a substantially limiting impairment, and people who are regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment.
To be protected under the ADA, an individual 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, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, caring for oneself, learning or working.
An individual with a disability must also be qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation, in order to be protected by the ADA. This means that the applicant or employee must:
- satisfy your job requirements for educational background, employment experience, skills, licenses, and any other qualification standards that are job related; and
- be able to perform those tasks that are essential to the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.
The ADA does not interfere with your right to hire the best qualified applicant. Nor does the ADA impose any affirmative action obligations. The ADA simply prohibits you from discriminating against a qualified applicant or employee because of her disability.
HOW ARE ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS DETERMINED?
Essential functions are the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation. You should carefully examine each job to determine which functions or tasks are essential to performance. (This is particularly important before taking an employment action such as recruiting, advertising, hiring, promoting or firing).
Factors to consider in determining if a function is essential include:
- whether the reason the position exists is to perform that function,
- the number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the performance of the function can be distributed, and
- the degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function.
Your judgment as to which functions are essential, and a written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job will be considered by EEOC as evidence of essential functions. Other kinds of evidence that EEOC will consider include:
- the actual work experience of present or past employees in the job,
- the time spent performing a function,
- the consequences of not requiring that an employee perform a function, and
- the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.
WHAT ARE MY OBLIGATIONS TO PROVIDE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS?
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:
- acquiring or modifying equipment or devices,
- job restructuring,
- part-time or modified work schedules,
- reassignment to a vacant position,
- adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies,
- providing readers and interpreters, and
- making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.
Reasonable accommodation also must be made to enable an individual with a disability to participate in the application process, and to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those available to other employees.
It is a violation of the ADA to fail to provide reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability, unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of your business. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would require significant difficulty or expense.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO IDENTIFY A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?
Frequently, when a qualified individual with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, the appropriate accommodation is obvious. The individual may suggest a reasonable accommodation based upon her own life or work experience. However, when the appropriate accommodation is not readily apparent, you must make a reasonable effort to identify one. The best way to do this is to consult informally with the applicant or employee about potential accommodations that would enable the individual to participate in the application process or perform the essential functions of the job. If this consultation does not identify an appropriate accommodation, you may contact the EEOC, State or local vocational rehabilitation agencies, or State or local organizations representing or providing services to individuals with disabilities. Another resource is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN is a free consultant service that helps employers make individualized accommodations. The telephone number is 1-800-526-7234.
WHEN DOES A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION BECOME AN UNDUE HARDSHIP?
It is not necessary to provide a reasonable accommodation if doing so would cause an undue hardship. Undue hardship means that an accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. Among the factors to be considered in determining whether an accommodation is an undue hardship are the cost of the accommodation, the employer’s size, financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation.
If a particular accommodation would be an undue hardship, you must try to identify another accommodation that will not pose such a hardship. If cost causes the undue hardship, you must also consider whether funding for an accommodation is available from an outside source, such as a vocational rehabilitation agency, and if the cost of providing the accommodation can be offset by state or federal tax credits or deductions. You must also give the applicant or employee with a disability the opportunity to provide the accommodation or pay for the portion of the accommodation that constitutes an undue hardship.
CAN I REQUIRE MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS OR ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT AN INDIVIDUAL’S DISABILITY?
It is unlawful to:
- ask an applicant whether she is disabled or about the nature or severity of a disability, or
- to require the applicant to take a medical examination before making a job offer.
You can ask an applicant questions about ability to perform job-related functions, as long as the questions are not phrased in terms of a disability. You can also ask an applicant to describe or to demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodation, the applicant will perform job-related functions.
After a job offer is made and prior to the commencement of employment duties, you may require that an applicant take a medical examination if everyone who will be working in the job category must also take the examination. You may condition the job offer on the results of the medical examination. However, if an individual is not hired because a medical examination reveals the existence of a disability, you must be able to show that the reasons for exclusion are job related and necessary for conduct of your business. You also must be able to show that there was no reasonable accommodation that would have made it possible for the individual to perform the essential job functions.
Once you have hired an applicant, you cannot require a medical examination or ask an employee questions about disability unless you can show that these requirements are job related and necessary for the conduct of your business. You may conduct voluntary medical examinations that are part of an employee health program.
The results of all medical examinations or information from inquiries about a disability must be kept confidential, and maintained in separate medical files. You may provide medical information required by State workers’ compensation laws to the agencies that administer such laws.
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, or from making employment decisions based on verifiable results. A test for the illegal use of drugs is not considered a medical examination under the ADA; therefore, it is not a prohibited pre-employment medical examination and you will not have to show that the administration of the test is job related and consistent with business necessity. The ADA does not encourage, authorize or prohibit drug tests.
HOW WILL THE ADA BE ENFORCED AND WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE REMEDIES?
The provisions of the ADA which prohibit job discrimination will be enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After July 26, 1992, individuals who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of their disability can file a charge with the Commission at any of its offices located throughout the United States. A charge of discrimination must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination, unless there is a state or local law that also provides relief for discrimination on the basis of disability. In those cases, the complainant has 300 days to file a charge.
The Commission will investigate and initially attempt to resolve the charge through conciliation, following the same procedures used to handle charges of discrimination filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ADA also incorporates the remedies contained in Title VII. These remedies include hiring, promotion, reinstatement, back pay, and attorneys fees. Reasonable accommodation is also available as a remedy under the ADA.
HOW WILL EEOC HELP EMPLOYERS WHO WANT TO COMPLY WITH THE ADA?
The Commission believes that employers want to comply with the ADA, and that if they are given sufficient information on how to comply, they will do so voluntarily.
Accordingly, the Commission conducts an active technical assistance program to promote voluntary compliance with the ADA. This program is designed to help employers understand their responsibilities and assist people with disabilities to understand their rights and the law.
In January 1992, EEOC published a Technical Assistance Manual, providing practical application of legal requirements to specific employment activities, with a directory of resources to aid compliance. EEOC publishes other educational materials, provides training on the law for employers and for people with disabilities, and participates in meetings and training programs of other organizations. EEOC staff also will respond to individual requests for information and assistance. The Commission’s technical assistance program is separate and distinct from its enforcement responsibilities. Employers who seek information or assistance from the Commission will not be subject to any enforcement action because of such inquiries.
The Commission also recognizes that differences and disputes about the ADA requirements may arise between employers and people with disabilities as a result of misunderstandings. Such disputes frequently can be resolved more effectively through informal negotiation or mediation procedures, rather than through the formal enforcement process of the ADA. Accordingly, EEOCwill encourage efforts to settle such differences through alternative dispute resolution, providing that such efforts do not deprive any individual of legal rights provided by the statute.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Q. What is the relationship between the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?
A. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of handicap by the federal government, federal contractors and by recipients of federal financial assistance. If you were covered by the Rehabilitation Act prior to the passage of the ADA, the ADA will not affect that coverage. Many of the provisions contained in the ADA are based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and its implementing regulations. If you are receiving federal financial assistance and are in compliance with Section 504, you are probably in compliance with the ADA requirements affecting employment except in those areas where the ADA contains additional requirements. Your nondiscrimination requirements as a federal contractor under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act will be essentially the same as those under the ADA; however, you will continue to have additional affirmative action requirements under Section 503 that do not exist under the ADA.
Q. If I have several qualified applicants for a job, does the ADA require that I hire the applicant with a disability?
A. No. You may hire the most qualified applicant. The ADA only makes it unlawful for you to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability on the basis of disability.
Q. One of my employees is a diabetic, but takes insulin daily to control his diabetes. As a result, the diabetes has no significant impact on his employment. Is he protected by the ADA?
A. Yes. The determination as to whether a person has a disability under the ADA is made without regard to mitigating measures, such as medications, auxiliary aids and reasonable accommodations. If an individual has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, she is protected under the ADA, regardless of the fact that the disease or condition or its effects may be corrected or controlled.
Q. One of my employees has a broken arm that will heal but is temporarily unable to perform the essential functions of his job as a mechanic. Is this employee protected by the ADA?
A. No. Although this employee does have an impairment, it does not substantially limit a major life activity if it is of limited duration and will have no long term effect.
Q. Am I obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation for an individual if I am unaware of her physical or mental impairment?
A. No. An employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation applies only to known physical or mental limitations. However, this does not mean that an applicant or employee must always inform you of a disability. If a disability is obvious, e.g., the applicant uses a wheelchair, the employer “knows” of the disability even if the applicant never mentions it.
Q. How do I determine whether a reasonable accommodation is appropriate and the type of accommodation that should be made available?
A. The requirement generally will be triggered by a request from an individual with a disability, who frequently can suggest an appropriate accommodation. Accommodations must be made on a case-by-case basis, because the nature and extent of a disabling condition and the requirements of the job will vary. The principal test in selecting a particular type of accommodation is that of effectiveness, i.e., whether the accommodation will enable the person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. It need not be the best accommodation or the accommodation the individual with a disability would prefer, although primary consideration should be given to the preference of the individual involved. However, as the employer, you have the final discretion to choose between effective accommodations, and you may select one that is least expensive or easier to provide.
Q. When must I consider reassigning an employee with a disability to another job as a reasonable accommodation?
A. When an employee with a disability is unable to perform her present job even with the provision of a reasonable accommodation, you must consider reassigning the employee to an existing position that she can perform with or without a reasonable accommodation. The requirement to consider reassignment applies only to employees and not to applicants. You are not required to create a position or to bump another employee in order to create a vacancy. Nor are you required to promote an employee with a disability to a higher level position.
Q. What if an applicant or employee refuses to accept an accommodation that I offer?
A. The ADA provides that an employer cannot require a qualified individual with a disability to accept an accommodation that is neither requested nor needed by the individual. However, if a necessary reasonable accommodation is refused, the individual may be considered not qualified.
Q. If our business has a health spa in the building, must it be accessible to employees with disabilities?
A. Yes. Under the ADA , workers with disabilities must have equal access to all benefits and privileges of employment that are available to similarly situated employees without disabilities. The duty to provide reasonable accommodation applies to all non-work facilities provided or maintained by you for your employees. This includes cafeterias, lounges, auditoriums, company-provided transportation and counseling services. If making an existing facility accessible would be an undue hardship, you must provide a comparable facility that will enable a person with a disability to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment similar to those enjoyed by other employees, unless this would be an undue hardship.
Q. If I contract for a consulting firm to develop a training course for my employees, and the firm arranges for the course to be held at a hotel that is inaccessible to one of my employees, am I liable under the ADA?
A. Yes. An employer may not do through a contractual or other relationship what it is prohibited from doing directly. You would be required to provide a location that is readily accessible to, and usable by your employee with a disability unless to do so would create an undue hardship.
Q. What are my responsibilities as an employer for making my facilities accessible?
A. As an employer, you are responsible under Title I of the ADA for making facilities accessible to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities as a reasonable accommodation, unless this would cause undue hardship. Accessibility must be provided to enable a qualified applicant to participate in the application process, to enable a qualified individual to perform essential job functions and to enable an employee with a disability to enjoy benefits and privileges available to other employees. However, if your business is a place of public accommodation (such as a restaurant, retail store or bank) you have different obligations to provide accessibility to the general public, under Title III of the ADA. Title III also will require places of public accommodation and commercial facilities (such as office buildings, factories and warehouses) to provide accessibility in new construction or when making alterations to existing structures. Further information on these requirements may be obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces Title III. (See page 22).
Q. Under the ADA, can an employer refuse to hire an individual or fire a current employee who uses drugs illegally?
A. Yes. Individuals who currently use drugs illegally are specifically excluded from the ADA‘s protections. However, the ADA does not exclude:
- persons who have successfully completed or are currently in a rehabilitation program and are no longer illegally using drugs, and
- persons erroneously regarded as engaging in the illegal use of drugs.
Q. Does the ADA cover people with AIDS?
A. Yes. The legislative history indicates that Congress intended the ADA to protect persons with AIDS and HIV disease from discrimination.
Q. Can I consider health and safety in deciding whether to hire an applicant or retain an employee with a disability?
A. The ADA permits an employer to require that an individual not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the individual or others in the work-place. A direct threat means a significant risk of substantial harm. You cannot refuse to hire or fire an individual because of a slightly increased risk of harm to himself or others. Nor can you do so based on a speculative or remote risk. The determination that an individual poses a direct threat must be based on objective, factual evidence regarding the individual’s present ability to perform essential job functions. If an applicant or employee with a disability poses a direct threat to the health or safety of himself or others, you must consider whether the risk can be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level with a reasonable accommodation. Q. Am I required to provide additional insurance for employees with disabilities?
A. No. The ADA only requires that you provide an employee with a disability equal access to whatever health insurance coverage you provide to other employees. For example, if your health insurance coverage for certain treatments is limited to a specified number per year, and an employee, because of a disability, needs more than the specified number, the ADA does not require that you provide additional coverage to meet that employee’s health insurance needs. The ADA also does not require changes in insurance plans that exclude or limit coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Q. Does the ADA require that I post a notice explaining its requirements?
A. The ADA requires that you post a notice in an accessible format to applicants, employees and members of labor organizations, describing the provisions of the Act. EEOC will provide employers with a poster summarizing these and other Federal legal requirements for nondiscrimination. EEOC will also provide guidance on making this information available in accessible formats for people with disabilities.
In addition to a variety of formal guidance documents, EEOC has developed a wide range of fact sheets, question & answer documents, and other publications to help employees and employers understand the complex issues surrounding disability discrimination.
- Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Recruiting, Hiring, Retaining, and Promoting People with Disabilities
- Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability
- Job Applicants and the ADA
- Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the ADA: A Guide for Veterans
- Questions and Answers: Promoting Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Workforce
- The Family and Medical Leave Act, the ADA, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The ADA: A Primer for Small Business
- Your Responsibilities as an Employer
- Small Employers and Reasonable Accommodation
- Work At Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation
- Applying Performance And Conduct Standards To Employees With Disabilities
- Obtaining and Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures
- The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for a Reasonable Accommodation at Work
- Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
- Reasonable Accommodations for Attorneys with Disabilities
- How to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Restaurants and Other Food Service Employers
- Final Report on Best Practices For the Employment of People with Disabilities In State Government
- Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights
- ABCs of Schedule A Documents
The ADA Amendments Act
Veterans with Disabilities
- EEOC Efforts for Veterans with Disabilities
- Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Veterans
- Veterans and the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Employers
- Hiring Veterans with Disabilities in the Federal Government
The Questions and Answers Series
- EEO Laws for Employees Affected by the Zika Virus
- Health Care Workers and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Blindness and Vision Impairments in the Workplace and the ADA
- The Americans with Disabilities Act’s Association Provision
- Diabetes in the Workplace and the ADA
- Epilepsy in the Workplace and the ADA
- Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in the Workplace and the ADA
- Cancer in the Workplace and the ADA
- The Application of Title VII and the ADA to Applicants or Employees Who Experience Domestic or Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking
Mediation and the ADA
- Questions and Answers for Mediation Providers: Mediation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Questions and Answers for Parties to Mediation: Mediation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
HIV/AIDS and the ADA
- Living with HIV Infection Your Legal Rights in the Workplace Under the ADA
- Helping Patients with HIV Infection Who Need Accommodations at Work
The following documents were developed by the U.S. Department of Justice.