There are multiple laws in place to protect both employees and job candidates against workplace discrimination. One of those is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As an employer, it’s crucial that you understand your responsibilities under the ADA.
The Purpose of This Law
The ADA National Network explains, “This is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
The term “disability” applies to anyone with a significant physical or mental impairment/condition. A few examples include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Visual, hearing or speech impairments
An employer’s responsibilities involve two key components—not discriminating in all aspects of employment and providing reasonable accommodations.
The main thing you need to know is that it’s unlawful to discriminate against a person based on a disability during recruitment, hiring, promotions, termination, etc. As long as a person with a disability is qualified for a position, they must be given the same consideration as other candidates. At the same time, a person without a disability shouldn’t be given any preferential treatment.
In other words, you should look at a person’s qualifications and not their disability. The US Department of Labor (DOL) states, “An employer is always free to hire the applicant of its choosing as long as the decision is not based on disability,” which is the main point here. Additionally, it’s your duty to ensure that an individual isn’t harassed because of their disability while in your workplace.
It’s also your responsibility to provide “reasonable accommodations” that enable a person with a disability to effectively perform his or her job. Some examples include:
- Modifying the height of equipment for someone in a wheelchair
- Providing an employee handbook in large print or an audiotape version for someone with a visual impairment
- Replacing doorknobs with accessible handles
- Allowing a person to work remotely if possible
However, these accommodations must not create an “undue hardship” on your end, which means that it shouldn’t be too expensive or difficult to implement. If accommodations meet either of these criteria, then you’re not responsible for making them.
Note that it’s fairly rare that accommodations do provide an undue hardship for an employer. The DOL reports that 57 percent of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, and the remaining cost only $500. In many cases, these costs are tax deductible as well. More often than not, it won’t be of any major inconvenience to you.
The Bottom Line
According to the 2010 US Census Report, nearly 20 percent of the population had some type of disability, with more than half them being severe. By these numbers, roughly 1 in 10 individuals have a significant disability. Understanding an employer’s responsibilities under the ADA should ensure that you know how to respond when encountering either a disabled candidate or employee so that you’re legally compliant and treat each person fairly.