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Americans with Disabilities Act: Questions & Answers

Posted by Kevin Quigley on Jan 23 2017
Kevin Quigley

Below are frequently asked questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits unjustified discrimination based on disability. If one of your questions isn't below shoot us an email!

A wheelchair disabled man

Q. What employers are covered by the ADA?
A. The employment provisions of title I of the ADA apply to private employers with 15 or more employees, State and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions. In addition, the employment practices of State and local governments of any size are covered by title II of the ADA. The standards to be used under title II for determining whether employment discrimination has occurred depend on whether the public entity at issue is also covered by title I. Beginning July 26, 1992, if the public entity is covered by title I, then title I standards will apply. If not, the standards of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act will apply. From January 26, 1992, when title II went into effect, until July 26, 1992, when title I went into effect, public entities were subject to the section 504 standards.

Q. What practices and activities are covered by the employment nondiscrimination requirements?
A. The ADA prohibits discrimination in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It applies to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all other employment-related activities.

Q. Who is protected against employment discrimination?
A. Employment discrimination is prohibited against "qualified individuals with disabilities." Persons discriminated against because they have a known association or relationship with a disabled individual also are protected. The ADA defines an "individual with a disability" as a person 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. An individual with a minor, nonchronic condition of short duration, such as a sprain, infection, or broken limb, generally would not be covered. A person with a history of cancer that is currently in remission or a person with a history of mental illness would also be covered.

Q. Who is a "qualified individual with a disability?"
A. A qualified individual with a disability is a person who meets legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position that he or she holds or seeks, and who can perform the "essential functions" of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. Requiring the ability to perform "essential" functions assures that an individual will not be considered unqualified simply because of inability to perform marginal or incidental job functions. If the individual is qualified to perform essential job functions except for limitations caused by a disability, the employer must consider whether the individual could perform these functions with a reasonable accommodation.

Q. What kinds of actions are required to reasonably accommodate applicants and employees?
A. Examples of reasonable accommodation include making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by an individual with a disability; restructuring a job; modifying work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; providing qualified readers or interpreters; or appropriately modifying examinations, training, or other programs. Reasonable accommodation also may include reassigning a current employee to a vacant position for which the individual is qualified, if the person becomes disabled and is unable to do the original job. However, there is no obligation to find a position for an applicant who is not qualified for the position sought. Employers are not required to lower quality or quantity standards in order to make an accommodation, nor are they obligated to provide personal use items such as glasses or hearing aids.

Q. May an employer inquire as to whether a prospective employee is disabled?
A. An employer may not make a pre-employment inquiry on an application form or in an interview as to whether, or to what extent, an individual is disabled. The employer may ask a job applicant whether he or she can perform particular job functions. If the applicant has a disability known to the employer, the employer may ask how he or she can perform job functions that the employer considers difficult or impossible to perform because of the disability, and whether an accommodation would be needed. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, provided that the examination is required for all entering employees in the same job category regardless of disability, and that information obtained is handled according to confidentiality requirements specified in the Act. 

Q. Will the ADA increase litigation burdens on employers?
A. Some litigation is inevitable. However, employers who use the period prior to the effective date of employment coverage to adjust their policies and practices to conform to ADA requirements will be much less likely to have serious litigation concerns. In drafting the ADA, Congress relied heavily on the language of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its implementing regulations. There is already an extensive body of law interpreting the requirements of that Act to which employers can turn for guidance on their ADA obligations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has issued regulations implementing the ADA's title I employment provisions, published a technical assistance manual with guidance on how to comply and will provide other assistance to help employers meet ADA requirements. Equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities will be achieved most quickly and effectively through widespread voluntary compliance with the law, rather than through reliance on litigation to enforce compliance.

Q. How are the employment provisions enforced?
A. The employment provisions of title I of the ADA are enforced under the same procedures applicable to race, sex, national origin, and religious discrimination under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Complaints regarding actions that occur on or after July 26, 1992, may be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or designated State human rights agencies. Remedies may include hiring, reinstatement, back pay, court orders to stop discrimination, and reasonable accommodation. Compensatory damages may be awarded for actual monetary losses and for future monetary losses, mental anguish, and inconvenience. Punitive damages may be available as well, if an employer acts with malice or reckless indifference. Attorney's fees may also be awarded.

For more information see www.ada.gov or www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/adaqa1.cfm.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 

Topics: Common Questions

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