Four Ways Employees Are Protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act
To the average person, exposure to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA” or “the Act”) is probably limited to wheelchair ramps or signs allowing service animals in public buildings. In the context of employment, most people have little to no knowledge of what protections are offered by the ADA. This can be partially attributed to the complexity of the ADA, with its interrelated definitions and overlapping requirements. In some ways, The Act has been made even more confusing by its long history of litigation, with the question of whether the Act applies to a particular employee often boiling down to such questions as:
- What constitutes a disability?
- What is a major life activity?
- What is an essential job function?
- What is a reasonable accommodation?
With all this complexity, it is no wonder that employees often don’t know exactly what their employer is required to do, and therefore don’t recognize when the ADA has been violated. To simplify, employers have four distinct obligations under the ADA:
- An Employer May Not Discriminate Against An Employee Or Applicant Because Of A Disability.If an employee knows anything about the ADA’s protections for employees, this is usually what she knows–namely, that a disabled person cannot be fired or demoted just because he is disabled. If the employee can perform the essential job functions, then his disability cannot be used as the basis of an adverse employment action.
- An Employer Is Required To Provide A Disabled Employee With Reasonable Accommodations If Doing So Will Allow Him To Perform Essential Job Functions.What many employees do not know is that an employer may be required to provide some sort of accommodations to allow the disabled employee to perform the job. These accommodations could include such things as additional equipment for the disabled employee to use, alternative work arrangements, or anything else as long it is reasonable to require the employer to do so. In addition, the accommodation must result in the employee being able to perform the essential job functions.
- An Employer May Not Discriminate Against An Employee Or Prospective Employee Based On A Perception That The Employee Is Disabled.Whether or not reasonable accommodations are ever requested by the employee or provided by the employer, an employer’s perception that the employee is disabled and any subsequent discriminatory treatment is also prohibited by the ADA. In other words, disability discrimination occurs when an employer treats an applicant or employee less favorably because they have a history of a disability or because they are believed to have an impairment.
- An Employer Must Engage In Good Faith Discussions With A Disabled Employee To Determine If The Employee Requires Reasonable Accommodations To Perform His Job. If the employer is aware of or perceives an employee’s disability, the ADA requires it to engage in a good-faith interactive process to identify and implement appropriate reasonable accommodations. This duty is not exhausted by one effort, and the employer’s obligation to engage in the interactive process extends beyond the first attempt where the employer is aware that the initial accommodation is failing and that further accommodations are needed.
In short, a disabled employee is protected by the ADA, and may not be fired because of the disability without the employer first fulfilling all its obligations to discuss and provide reasonable accommodations. If after good faith discussions and multiple sincere attempts to provide reasonable accommodations, the employee is still unable to perform the essential job functions, then the employer is under no further obligation.
Rex A. Christensen practices employment discrimination law in Gilbert Arizona. He can be reached at 1-480-582-1287.
This article does not constitute, and should not be considered, legal advice, and you should consult with an attorney regarding your own specific legal matters. The existence of this article or your reading of it does not create an attorney-client relations. Neither the Christensen Law Firm nor any of its attorneys may represent you without first establishing that doing so will not create a conflict of interest.
Rex A. Christensen is licensed to practice law in Arizona only.