Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which took effect July 26, 1992, prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees,* state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities, as well as individuals associated with a disabled person, in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.
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.
Major life activities include tasks such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, working, and operation of major bodily functions.
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.
Reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to:
- Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities
- Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices
- Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters
- Allowing an employee to work remotely
An employer is required to make an accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business.
Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considering factors such as the nature and cost of the accommodation, an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.
An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation, nor is an employer obligated to provide personal use items such as glasses or hearing aids.
If an employee who handles food has an infectious disease and reasonable accommodation cannot eliminate the risk of transmission, the employer may refuse to assign the person.
Additionally, the ADA does not prohibit a religious employer from giving preference to individuals of a particular religion.
The Interactive Process
Generally, an employer does not have to provide reasonable accommodation unless an individual with a disability has requested one.
If an employer believes a medical condition is causing a performance or conduct problem, the employer may ask the employee how to solve the problem and if the employee needs a reasonable accommodation.
Once a reasonable accommodation is requested, the employer and the individual should discuss the individual’s needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation—this is a legal obligation for both the employer and employee, known as the “interactive process.”
Where more than one accommodation would work, the employer may choose the one that is less costly or that is easier to provide.
Medical Examinations, Inquiries
Employers may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. However, applicants may be asked about their ability to perform specific job functions.
A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all entering employees in similar jobs.
Medical examinations of employees must be job-related and consistent with the employer’s business needs.
Medical disclosures and records are confidential. However, medical information may be shared with supervisors regarding necessary accommodations, safety personnel for emergency treatment, and government officials investigating ADA compliance.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Employees and applicants currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs are not qualified individuals under the ADA. However, individuals no longer using drugs are considered qualified individuals if they are participating in, or have completed supervised drug rehabilitation programming.
Tests for illegal drugs are not subject to the ADA’s restrictions on medical examinations. However, drug and alcohol tests may be subject to additional state and federal restrictions.
Employers may hold illegal drug users and alcoholics to the same performance standards as other employees.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued regulations to enforce the provisions of Title I of the ADA on July 26, 1991.
The provisions originally took effect on July 26, 1992, and covered employers with 25 or more employees.
On July 26, 1994, the threshold dropped to include employers with 15 or more employees.
Additionally, employers must post in an accessible format describing these provisions. Failure to do so results in a fine.
Further information and guidance can be found at:
Source: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Fact Sheet on the ADA
*The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act also protects against all forms of discrimination, including disabilities. It is important to note that starting Oct. 1, 2022, CFEPA covers any employer with one or more employees.
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