Americans with Disabilities Act: What employers should know

One of the most important developments in employment law, it is essential to research this act and know what requirements and conditions apply to you.

by Beverly Rice
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

If your business has 15 or more employees, you need to understand a certain law to the letter, and we're not talking about tax law: it's the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

What is it?

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits private employers, state and local government, labor unions and other employment agencies from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities.

Discrimination is prohibited in job application procedures, hiring and firing, advancement and promotion, fair compensation, training, and other rights and privileges of employment. While the Act first covered employers with 25 or more employees, in 1994, the act was changed to include employers with 15 or more employees.

What is a 'qualified individual'?

Since the Act prohibits discrimination against "qualified individuals with disabilities," you need to know who is protected under the act and who is not. As defined in the act, an individual with a disability is a person who has a recorded or established physical and/or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Once an individual is determined to have a disability, you must focus on the "qualified" term of the act's definition.

A qualified applicant or employee with a disability can perform the job's essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation.

Keep in mind that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect prospective or current employees with drug problems. While the act restricts medical examinations or requirements, tests for illegal drugs are not subject to restrictions. Therefore, employers may hold illegal drug users and alcoholics to the same standard as other applicants and may deny or terminate employment if the work policy is to ban employment for anyone for such drug and/or alcohol use.

What can you ask?

As an employer, there are limitations to what you can or cannot ask during interviews and examinations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability.

Employers may ask about the applicant's ability to perform specific job duties and functions. Base any employment decision on the applicant's ability to perform these duties, just like any standard applicant or employee. A medical examination may determine a decision to deny or terminate employment. Still, such a medical examination must be part of the company policy and required for all applicants entering similar jobs, not just applicants with disabilities. The medical examination must also be reasonable, job-related, and consistent with the job duties and the company's needs.

What is required?

If an applicant or employee meets the above specifications of a qualified individual with a disability, then you must perform reasonable workplace accommodations for the individual and his or her disability.

As set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, making existing work facilities accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, job restructuring, schedule modification and reassignment to an existing vacant position, acquiring or modifying equipment, training materials or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

However, there are limits to these accommodation requirements; an employer is required to make these reasonable accommodations only if it would not pose an undue burden and hardship on the operation of the employer's business.

As defined by the Act, an undue hardship is an action that would require significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as the size of the employer's business, financial resources, and the nature and structure of the business.

As an employer, you are not required to make accommodations that would lower quality or production standards in your business, nor are you required to provide personal use items such as hearing aids or eyeglasses.

As an employer in today's workforce, it is crucial to be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act and stay updated on any revisions to this law. Performing this act's requirements will ensure that all qualified individuals with disabilities have rights and privileges in your workplace equal to those of employees without disabilities. Help keep your business in good standing and compliance with laws that govern your operation.

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About the Author

Beverly Rice

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.