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The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in:

  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • Public accommodation
  • Communications
  • Governmental activities

The ADA also established requirements for telecommunications relay services.

The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA)

Female Worker

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 became effective on January 1, 2009. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) amended the ADA regulations to reflect the changes made by the ADAAA and final regulations were published in the Federal Register in March 2011.

The Amendments Act and regulations reversed several Supreme Court decisions and made a number of significant changes to the ADA:

  1. The definition of "disability" has been expanded from "limitation in major life activities" to include major bodily functions.
  2. "Individual with a disability" and "qualified individual" are now separate terms.
  3. Discrimination is now prohibited "on the basis of disability" rather than "against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual."
  4. In keeping with Congress's direction that the primary focus of the ADA is on whether discrimination occurred, the determination of disability should not require extensive analysis.

ADA and ADAAA in the Workplace

Group of WorkersTitle I of the ADA prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in:

  • Job application procedures
  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Advancement
  • Compensation
  • Job training
  • Other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment

Covered Employers

Title I of the ADA applies to:

  • Employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments
  • Employment agencies and labor organizations
  • Federal sector employees under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, and its implementing rules

Defining Disability

According to the ADA, an individual with a disability is 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 that is not both transitory and minor.

Protected Individuals

Not everyone with a medical condition is protected by the ADA; in order to be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law.

Qualified Applicant with a Disability

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question.

Discussing Disability

With Job applicants

Company InterviewEmployers may not ask job applicants:

  • To answer medical questions
  • To take medical exams
  • To identify disabilities
  • Whether they have they have a disability or the nature of a known disability

They can ask whether the applicant believes they can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation, and if so, how they would perform the job.

With Job Candidates

Before extending a job offer, employers may not ask candidates to answer medical questions or take a medical exam.

Employers may make a job offer contingent upon the answers to certain medical questions or successful passage of a medical exam, if:

  • The questions/exam are consistent with business need, AND
  • All new employees in the same type of job have to answer the questions or take the exam.

With Current Employees

For employees already on the job, employers generally can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if:

  • Documentation is needed to support an employee's request for an accommodation, OR
  • The employer believes that an employee is not able to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition.

If an employer believes that a medical condition is causing a performance or conduct problem, they may ask the employee whether they need a reasonable accommodation. Employers are encouraged to address performance issues with employees with disabilities in the same manner as they would with any employee and not to assume that these are related to the person's disability.

Managing Documents

The ADA also requires that employers keep all medical records and information confidential and separate from personnel files.

Other Resources

e-laws Advisor<http://www.dol.gov/elaws/>
The e-laws Advisors are interactive e-tools that provide easy-to-understand information about a number of Federal employment laws. Each Advisor simulates the interaction that you might have with an employment law expert. It asks questions and provides answers based on responses given.

Employment Laws: Disability and Discrimination<http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/laws.htm>
This resource reviews five employment laws and provides information to assist employers in determining which laws apply to their businesses.

ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer<http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada17.html>
This EEOC resource provides basic guidelines on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for employers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Primer for Small Business<http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/adahandbook.cfm>
This EEOC Handbook is intended primarily for businesses with 15 to 100 employees and smaller businesses expecting to expand to have at least 15 employees in the near future. It is an easy-to-read, overview of the basic employment provisions of the ADA as they relate to employees and job applicants.

ADA Amendments Fact Sheet<http://www.northeastada.org/r-factsheets.cfm>
This resource provides information on the American's with Disabilities Act Amendments (ADAAA).

ADA.gov<http://www.ada.gov/>
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces Title I of the ADA for state and local government employers and prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. It also is unlawful under the Act for an employer to take retaliatory action against any individual for opposing employment practices made unlawful by the ADA, for filing a discrimination charge or for testifying or assisting or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the ADA. This site provides information to employers on how the ADA can affect their business.

ADA National Network<http://adata.org/>
The ADA National Network provides information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) tailored to meet the needs of businesses, government and individuals at local, regional and national levels. The ADA National Network consists of 10 Regional ADA National Network Centers throughout the country.

Employers and the ADA: Myths and Facts<http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/ada.htm>
This Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) resource provides information for employers on the myths and facts about the Americans with Disability Act in the workplace.

Questions and Answers on the Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008<http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/ada_qa_final_rule.cfm>
This U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission document answers common employer questions related to the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA).

Page last updated on Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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