ADA FAQ

Americans with Disabilities Act

U.S. Department of Justice – ADA site
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services provided by state and local governments, goods and services provided by private companies and in commercial facilities. The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990.  The following information was originally obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.

What does the ADA do?

“The Americans with Disabilities Act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunication.”

What employment practices and activities are covered?

“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.”

Who is protected?

“Employment discrimination is prohibited against qualified individuals with disabilities. This includes applicants for employment and employees. An individual is considered to have a ‘disability’ if s/he 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. Persons discriminated against because they have a known association or relationship with an individual with a disability also are protected.”

What are some examples of a major life activity?

“…the ADA applies to persons who have impairments and that these must substantially limit major life activities such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working. An individual with epilepsy, paralysis, HIV infection, AIDS, a substantial hearing or visual impairment, mental retardation, or a specific learning disability is covered, but an individual with a minor, non-chronic condition of short duration, such as a sprain, broken limb, or the flu, generally would not be covered.”

What is an example of an individual with a record of disability?

An example would be “a person who has recovered from cancer or mental illness.”

What is an example of an individual who is regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment, even though they may not have such an impairment?

An example would be an “individual with a severe facial disfigurement” who is denied employment because “an employer feared the negative reactions of customers or co-workers.”

Who is a qualified individual with a disability?

A qualified individual with a disability is a person who meets legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position that s/he holds or seeks, and who can perform the ‘essential functions’ of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

What are the essential functions of a job?

Essential functions are those job duties that are of utmost importance and excludes any functions that are considered marginal or incidental to the job. “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.”

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A “reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities. Some examples of a reasonable accommodation include making changes to existing facilities, restructuring a job, modifying work schedules, acquiring or modifying equipment, providing qualified readers or interpreters, and appropriately modifying examinations or training…The decision as to the appropriate accommodation must be based on the particular facts of each case.”

When is an employer required to make a reasonable accommodation?

“An employer is only required to accommodate a ‘known’ disability of a qualified applicant or employee. The requirement generally will be triggered by a request from an individual with a disability, who frequently will be able to suggest an appropriate accommodation.”

Does an employer have to give preference to a qualified applicant with a disability over other applicants?

“No. An employer is free to select the most qualified applicant available and to make decisions based on reasons unrelated to a disability. For example, suppose two persons apply for a job as a typist and an essential function of the job is to type 75 words per minute accurately. One applicant, an individual with a disability, who is provided with a reasonable accommodation for a typing test, types 50 words per minute; the other applicant who has no disability accurately types 75 words per minute. The employer can hire the applicant with the higher typing speed, if typing speed is needed for successful performance of the job.”

Can you ask an employee to take a medical examination after they are hired?

“After a person starts work, a medical examination or inquiry of an employee must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. Employers may conduct employee medical examinations where there is evidence of a job performance or safety problem, examinations required by other Federal laws, examinations to determine current ‘fitness’ to perform a particular job, and voluntary examinations that are part of employee health programs. However, tests for illegal use of drugs are not medical examinations under the ADA and are not subject to the restrictions of such examinations.”

Where would the medical results of these examinations be kept?

“Information from all medical examinations and inquires must be kept apart from general personnel files as a separate, confidential medical record, available only under limited conditions.”

Can an employer maintain existing performance standards for an employee with a disability?

“An employer can hold employees with disabilities to the same standards of performance as other similarly situated employees without disabilities for performing essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation.”

Can an employer establish specific attendance and leave policies?

“An employer can establish attendance and leave policies that are uniformly applied to all employees, regardless of disability, but may not refuse leave needed by an employee with a disability if other employees get such leave. An employer also may be required to make adjustments in leave policy as a reasonable accommodation. The employer is not obligated to provide additional paid leave, but accommodations may include leave flexibility and unpaid leave.”

Where can I get more information about ADA?

You can obtain more information regarding the ADA at the U.S. Department of Justice Web site above.