What All Employees Should Know About the ADA
How disabilities are covered under federal law
Unfortunately, disability discrimination complaints by employees are pretty common. Many of them fall into two categories:
- People who were denied accommodations on the job.
- People who were suddenly terminated after disclosing a serious medical condition.
Let’s take a look at how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) impacts these types of situations.
Are you covered by the ADA?
The first thing to consider is whether you qualify for coverage under the ADA.
People are often surprised to learn that disabilities are determined on a case-by-case basis. That is, there is no list of conditions that are or are not covered.
Rather, the federal law directs that an individual’s condition should be evaluated in terms of whether he or she suffers from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a life activity.
Major life activities may include:
- Performing manual tasks
- Caring for yourself
Beyond that, you must generally meet two criteria to be eligible for a job accommodation. Those criteria are:
- You are qualified to do the job in question. That is, you have the appropriate education, experience, and professional licenses to perform the required job duties.
- You are able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without accommodation. “Essential functions” are generally only those tasks that constitute the core of the position.
Different forms of accommodations
If you meet the definition of a qualified individual under the ADA and you are qualified to do the job, you may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation at your place of employment.
Employers must allow reasonable accommodations under the ADA as long as those arrangements don’t cause an undue hardship. A hardship might be an accommodation that disrupts business operations or one is prohibitively expensive.
Accommodations may encompass a wide variety of things, from allowing extended breaks or schedule changes, to providing special tools, equipment, or other assistive devices.
Accommodations may also come in the form of extended leave to seek medical treatment or to recover from a medical episode. While the law does not specify a certain amount of acceptable extended leave time, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has directed that employers may sometimes need to modify existing leave policies to accommodate leave requests by people who are covered under the ADA.
What to do if you need an accommodation
If you believe that you need an accommodation, the first thing you should do is ask for one.
If your company has a handbook, check to see if there are procedures in place to request an accommodation, and follow them. If there aren’t, speak to your human resources person or your manager. It’s always a good idea to make requests in writing, or to at least jot down the date and substance of the conversation.
After you ask for an accommodation, your employer is required to engage in an interactive process with you to determine the appropriate solution.
Keep in mind, finding the right accommodation may sometimes take several tries. For example, if your manager orders a special tool for you but it doesn’t seem to be helping, he or she must then attempt to find another alternative. This is called making a good-faith effort to find an accommodation.
What to do if you’ve been fired
The ADA also protects qualified individuals from discrimination in the workplace or while applying for jobs.
However, it’s not uncommon at all for workers to be fired after disclosing a serious medical condition, such as cancer. (In fact, we’ve seen that exact scenario a number of times.)
Employers that engage in this kind of unscrupulous behavior often attempt to cover their tracks by fabricating another reason for the termination.
For example, a person with a spotless employment record may suddenly be severely reprimanded for relatively minor infractions. Or a staffer may be put on a personal improvement plan that contains unreachable goals.
When to contact an attorney
If you’ve been denied an accommodation under the ADA, or if you’ve been fired or driven off the job because of a disability, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation to find out more about your rights.