What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

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The Americans with Disabilities Act or the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their disabilities. This is similar to other employment laws which protect the civil rights of individuals on the basis of race, religion, gender, or national origin. The ADA is meant to provide equal opportunities for individuals who have disabilities in the workplace, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications and state and government services.

Individuals with Disabilities

A person with a disability is an individual who has either a physical or a mental impairment which is substantially limiting when it comes to any of their major life activities. They may also have a record of such impairment or just be regarded to have this type of impairment. A qualified employee is a person who has a disability but with or without some sort of reasonable accommodations is able to perform the job they are hired to do or applying for. A reasonable accommodation can include things like restructuring job related tasks, making facilities more easily accessed by persons who have disabilities or modifying existing equipment or devices. It may also include things such as adjusting training materials or hiring interpreters. It is in no way limited to these particular modifications or adjustments.

Employers and Reasonable Accommodations

Employers who have at least 15 employees are not allowed to discriminate against otherwise qualified individuals who have disabilities. They are required to make any accommodations which are reasonable so that the otherwise qualified applicant can perform the job. However, if the accommodations would cause an “undue hardship” on the business they are exempt. Accommodations can vary widely and totally depend on the individual employee or applicant. There are some individuals who have disabilities that do not require any accommodations at all. And there is not one accommodation which will work for all individuals with disabilities. An employer does not have to lower the business quality or production standards in order to accommodate an individual with a disability and they are not obligated to provide items which are considered personal such as hearing aids or eye glasses.

Employing Individuals with Disabilities

Although employers are required to make reasonable accommodations, they can reject an applicant or fire a disabled employee who poses a threat to the safety or health of other workers in the workplace. Employers do not have to change their policies on the use of illegal drugs as individuals with disabilities are not exempt from personnel actions in these cases. Employers just cannot discriminate against an applicant or an employee based on a known disability. Religious organizations are allowed to give preference in employing practices to their own members and they can require that persons who are employed are also conformed to their religious tenets.

Other Provisions of the ADA

Title I of the ADA also protects individuals from questions from employers. An employer is not allowed to ask a job applicant about the existence, severity or nature of a disability. They may however, be asked about their ability to perform specific job-related functions. An employer can make a job offer that is contingent upon results from a medical examination but only if such an exam is required for all employees who are hired in similar positions. Medical exams have to be job related and they must be consistent with the direct and specific business needs of the employer. In cases where an employer gains medical information about an employee, the information must be kept confidential. Medical information is not limited to a diagnosis or a course of treatment, confidential information includes an employee’s request that a reasonable accommodation be made. Anything pertaining to the medical condition of the employee is confidential information according to the ADA requirements.

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