Disabilities in the Workplace: What To Know

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In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made it illegal to discriminate against qualified employees with disabilities. This refers to people seeking employment or currently working in private sectors, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor-managed committees, and labor organizations. 

Furthermore, the ADA made it illegal to practice any form of discrimination in pay, hiring/firing, promotions, job assignments, leaves and lay-offs, and all other employment-related tasks and abilities.

If you're an employer or business owner, it's essential to understand who the ADA protects and how you can best serve your workplace. Let's get into what you need to know.

Who is Protected Under this Act? 

In a nutshell, the ADA protects anyone with a disability that can physically or mentally impair major life activities. Such people must have a record or be considered to have a substantial impairment that restricts usual and major life activities like speaking, seeing, breathing, learning, working, walking, or taking care of oneself.

Essential Functions of the Job 

As an employer, it is your responsibility to hire a qualified candidate for a job opening. You need someone who can perform the fundamental and essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

This is important to know: while the ADA does not impose affirmative action obligations on hiring, you cannot discriminate against someone just because of his or her disability.

No doubt, the essential functions can be somewhat subjective, but you do need to consider:

  • Does that position exist to perform that particular function?
  • How many other employees can perform that function?
  • What is the expertise or skills required to perform that function?

Providing Reasonable Accommodations

If you are hiring a  qualified candidate with a disability, it's vital that you take the right steps to make the workplace comfortable, safe, and inviting. Some accommodations may be obvious, and the individual will be able to tell you directly what it is. For example, someone who was injured in a car accident may need specific support, time for appointments and medical help, and adequate working space for stretching out their legs.

Others may be less-obvious but equally important. Examples include providing flexible work schedules, modifying training modules or policies, providing on-site interpreters, translators, or readers, and obtaining needed devices or equipment.

Please note that if you are unaware of a physical or mental limitation, you are not "obligated" to provide reasonable accommodations. However, if an employee does disclose such disabilities, you must work with him or her to provide appropriate resources as needed. 

Other Considerations

When interviewing, it is illegal to ask potential or current applicants about any disabilities. It is also illegal to require any medical examinations before making a job offer. You can, however, ask the applicant any questions related to performing essential job-related functions. If a medical examination is part of your standard protocol when starting employment, such individuals can take these tests. You cannot, however, rescind employment based solely on disabilities, as this is considered discriminatory. 

On the other hand, the ADA does not protect individual using illicit substances. If you discover that someone on your team (or a potential candidate) is using such drugs, you do have the right to deny and/or terminate employment. Therefore, drug testing is allowed. 

Finally, the ADA does not protect employees with temporary injuries, such as a broken arm or leg. If these employees can no longer function essential job duties, it is assumed that their condition will heal and is only of a limited duration.

About nicolea16


Nicole A is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and professional freelance writer. She is passionate about helping people uncover and unleash their authentic selves (both in her therapy and written work). Nicole enjoys blogging about mental health, addiction, and self-esteem. 


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