Today we have a guest blogger at The Employer Handbook. It's Mary Ellen Ellis. May Ellen writes for Paralegal 411, a career resource for individuals interested in starting a career in the paralegal field.
(Want to guest blog at The Employer Handbook? Email me).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was passed and signed into law during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The law protects the rights of disabled Americans by ensuring equal treatment, guaranteeing access to public spaces and transportation, and by prohibiting discrimination. One of the sections of the laws guarantees equal treatment and consideration of the disabled by employers and banishes discrimination when a person is reasonably capable of doing a job.
Who is Protected by the ADA?
The ADA guarantees employment rights to anyone with "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." The impairments may include a number of physical conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, paralysis, and deafness, or mental disorders like bipolar or major depression. Illnesses that are temporary are generally not included in the definition. Major life activities include breathing, sleeping, walking, and other aspects of daily life.
Discrimination vs. Qualifications
According to the ADA, employers are not allowed to discriminate against potential employees with disabilities. However, they are not required to hire someone who is not qualified to perform the "essential functions" of the job. These are defined as the fundamental duties of the job and an employee should be able to perform them either with or without reasonable accommodations. To determine what is essential, the employer must consider whether the reason that the position exists is to perform that essential function, how many other employees can perform it, and what level of expertise is required for it.
What are Reasonable Accommodations?
Employers are responsible for providing disabled employees, who are qualified for the job, reasonable accommodations to allow them to perform the essential functions. Accommodations may include acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies, providing readers and interpreters, and making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. The accommodations apply to all aspects of the employment process: advertising jobs, applications, interviewing, job functions, evaluations, and firing. The accommodations need not be made if they will cause undue hardship to the business. In other words, if the accommodation will cause the business financial hardship or significantly interrupt the course of business, an exception can be made.
When interviewing any potential new employee, certain questions are illegal to ask. An employer may not ask if an applicant is disabled or ask any questions about the extent of an obvious disability. The employer may also not require an applicant to undergo a medical examination before making a job offer. The employer may ask about the applicant's ability to perform certain functions of the job as long as a disability is not mentioned. Once hired, the employer may discuss the disability only in terms of how it relates to job tasks.
Assistance for Employers
Employers may receive some assistance in the form of tax credits and deductions to encourage the employment of the disabled and to increase accessibility. Small businesses, those with 30 or fewer employees or less than $1 million in revenue can receive a tax credit up to $5,000 for reasonable accommodations. A business of any size may be eligible for deductions up to $15,000 for improving job site accessibility and transportation.