3 minute read

Rights of the Disabled


Title I of the ADA addresses the issue of equal employment opportunities for the disabled. Basically, the ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a disabled person solely on the basis of that person's disability with respect to the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The employer's decisions to hire, promote, fire, establish rates of compensation, and provide training are all covered under the ADA. To fall within the scope of the ADA, an employer must be engaged in an industry affecting interstate commerce (commerce between states) and have 15 or more employees. Employers that are not governed by the ADA are subject to parallel state discrimination laws. Also covered under the ADA are employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees.

A person is protected under the ADA if he/she is a "qualified individual with a disability." This phrase does not include a person who is currently engaged in illegal drug use. However, it does refer to a disabled individual who, with or without accommodation, is able to perform the essential functions of the job. For instance, a person with a visual impairment in one eye would be a "qualified individual with a disability" if he/she is still able to handle the requisite work duties. Conversely, that person would not be a "qualified individual with a disability" if the visual impairment prevents him/her from handling his/her essential job tasks. The person in the first example would fall within the parameters of the ADA while the person in the second example would not.

Prohibited discrimination includes, but is not limited to, the following conduct by an employer: (1) limiting, segregating, or classifying a job applicant or employee in a way which negatively impacts on the opportunities or status of the job applicant or employee; (2) participating in a contractual relationship with another business which subjects the employer's disabled employees to discrimination; (3) using standards which have the effect of either discriminating on the ground of disability or perpetuating such discrimination; (4) failing to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability; (5) using employment tests that tend to screen out persons with disabilities; and (6) failing to administer employment tests to individuals with impaired manual, sensory, or speaking skills so that the results accurately reflect the skills and aptitude of the job applicant or employee.

The ban against discrimination also applies to medical inquiries and examinations. In this regard, an employer is precluded from asking a job applicant as to whether he/she has a disability and from inquiring into the nature and severity of the disability. However, an employer is permitted to inquire into the job applicant's ability to perform the job functions. While the ADA forbids an employer from requiring a preemployment medical examination, it permits a medical examination after an offer of employment has been made, provided that all new employees are subjected to such an examination and the information obtained is treated confidentially. For the purpose of the ADA, a test to determine the illegal use of drugs is not considered to be a medical examination. Therefore, an employer is not barred from conducting drug testing on job applicants and employees and from making employment decisions on the basis of the test results.

The employer is obligated to make reasonable accommodations with respect to the mental or physical limitations of a "qualified individual with a disability." For example, an employer may provide such a person with a parking space that is in close proximity to the work premises, reassign the person to a vacant position, or modify his/her work schedule. A request for an unreasonable accommodation need not be fulfilled. Moreover, an employer is exempted from the duty of reasonable accommodation if such accommodation would result in an undue hardship, in terms of a significant difficulty or expense. For instance, an employer need not shift the lion's share of the disabled individual's duties to other employees. Additionally, an employer would not be required to grant a disabled individual an indefinite leave of absence, with full compensation and benefits, unless the employer also has a policy of granting such leaves to other employees. The issues of whether a requested accommodation is reasonable and whether the employer would suffer an undue hardship are to be determined by considering the totality of underlying circumstances of each particular situation.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesRights of the Disabled - Background, Definition Of "disability", Employment, Public Services, Public Accommodations, Other Statutes