Applying to, interviewing for, and starting a new job can be nerve wracking experience, especially for a disabled employee. They may be wondering whether the job will work with their disability, whether the boss will be understanding, and whether people will make rude comments. Disabilities are often misunderstood.
Fortunately, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) ensures that companies give equal rights to able-bodied and disabled employees. But that doesn’t mean that disabled employees don’t face discrimination. Employment law firm Sessions & Kimball LLP performed a comprehensive analysis of workplace discrimination data and found that disability discrimination was the most common type reported. Because of this, and the fact that not every employer is properly held accountable, it is crucial that disabled employees understand their rights.
ADA Compliance Required by Employers
The ADA rules apply to all employers with at least 15 employees, and are enforced by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). It is important to understand that the following accommodations need to be made if the candidate or employee is able to perform the essential functions of the job. Meaning, that if the bulk of a job description requires an employee to make visual observations, and someone is blind, there is no reasonable accommodation available. However, if a job requires traveling to different locations, and an employee has a disability that makes it difficult to walk, they would need to be provided with priority parking, since walking is only a small portion of their job.
Below are some specific instances and examples of ADA compliance required by employers.
Application & Interview Process
From the moment you are applying for a job, there must be accommodations available, according to the EEOC. Examples of this could include providing reading materials in a larger font or in braille; providing a sign language interpreter; choosing accessible locations for the interview; or providing modified equipment or devices. For example, if interviews are normally conducted on the second floor of a building with no elevator, a candidate in a wheelchair should be allowed to interview on the ground floor.
Under the ADA, employers cannot ask candidates questions about their disability during the interview process. They can only ask about the candidate’s ability to perform the job. Once an official offer is made, the employer may ask questions pertaining to the employee’s disability.
Physical Space & Job Duties
Plenty of modifications can be made to an office space that will accommodate a disabled employee. For example if the employee is in a wheelchair, their desk may need to be raised. If an employee needs to start work later in the morning due to ongoing medical treatment, that is reasonable as well. If a blind employee needs a computer program that reads text out loud, that is also reasonable. If there is a small task associated with a job, such as getting the mail, and the employee has trouble walking, that task could be reassigned. There are plenty of ways that employers can (and must) accommodate employees who are qualified to do the essential parts of their job.
What To Do If Your Rights Are Violated
Asking for a reasonable accommodation does not need to be done in any specific terms, and the ADA doesn’t need to be referenced. If you have a disability, you simply need to ask your employer for help with your accommodation.
While the outlined rules above are fairly comprehensive, there is an exception to the law. Accommodations cannot be made for disabled employees if they aren’t “reasonable”, in other words, if they would cause undue hardship to the company. This could be the case if the required accommodation is extremely difficult, time consuming, or too costly.
If you requested a reasonable accommodation from your employer and they denied you, hope is not lost. You can file a charge with the EEOC and they will investigate your claim. If your accommodation is found to be reasonable, the EEOC will fight your employer on your behalf.