Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has been protecting workers with various types of handicaps. This employment discrimination law guarantees a number of rights to workers with disabilities, not least of which barring employers from discriminating against workers or potential workers with disabilities when it comes to hiring, wages, promotion, or laying off. In this article, we will take a closer look at the employment discrimination law called the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It is important to note that this employment discrimination law does not cover all businesses; in fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act only pertains to companies with 15 or more employees, though local, state and federal offices are included, as well as employment agencies and labor unions.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines an individual with a disability in the following way:
• 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
A qualified worker or applicant with a disability can be defined as one that can perform the duties of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation. Again, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tells us that “reasonable accommodation” can include making existing work spaces which are used by employees accessible and usable to those with disabilities, restructuring jobs, modifying work schedules, reassigning a worker in question to a vacant position, modifying or acquiring equipment, devices, examinations, training materials or policies, and providing qualified interpreters or readers as necessary.
It should be clear that employers are not required to make changes that would cause an undue hardship on the operation of the enterprise. Some factors taken into consideration in this case are the size of the business, financial resources or the purpose or physical space of the business. At the same time, the employer does not have to lower his production or quality standards in order to accommodate an employee with a disability.
This employment discrimination law also covers medical examinations and inquiries. This means that employers do not have the right to ask about the nature of the disability, nor the severity or even of its existence. On the other hand, applicants may be asked about their ability to perform certain functions which relate the job in question, and they may be required to perform an exam, but only if all applicants are required to do so. In the same vein, medical exams can only be requested if they are related to the job in question.
Finally, it should be made clear that this employment discrimination law does not cover illegal drug use or alcoholism. Testing for the use of illegal drugs does not fall under the protection of the ADA, and employers may hold those who do use illegal drugs and alcoholics to the same standard as other employees.