As an employer, the odds are good that you’ll encounter a qualified employee or applicant with a disability. In fact, research from the U.S. Census Bureau reports that “56.7 million or 19 percent of Americans had disabilities in 2010, and more than half reported that the disability was severe.” For this reason, it’s important to understand how to properly provide accommodations for disabled employees and take measures to maintain compliance.
ADA Rules and Regulations
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1990 with the intent of preventing discrimination of individuals with disabilities, giving them the same opportunities as any other person. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website reports that individuals who are protected by the ADA include:
- A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (like sitting, standing or sleeping)
- A person with a record of a substantially limiting impairment (e.g. cancer)
When it comes to the workforce, the ADA mandates that employers provide disabled employees and applicants with “reasonable accommodations.” This means making adjustments or modifications that allow disabled employees to effectively perform their jobs and have the same opportunities as other employees.
Making Reasonable Accommodations
Since disabilities can differ dramatically from one person to the next, reasonable accommodations are handled on a case-by-case basis. This typically begins with an employee or applicant making a request in “plain English” and discussing the details of it with the employer. In some cases, a representative for the person such as a doctor, family member or health professional may also make a request.
Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations requests:
- An employee with cancer asks for time off to undergo chemotherapy and other treatments
- A deaf applicant asks for a sign language interpreter to assist him during an interview
Determining What’s Reasonable
It’s not always easy to determine what’s reasonable and what’s not. An employer is only required to do so when it doesn’t create an undue hardship for their business such financial difficulties, massive disruptions, etc.
If accommodating a disabled employee will cost thousands of dollars each month, then this wouldn’t be reasonable. Also, if a person’s disability inhibits them from performing an essential job function it is not reasonable for an employer to accommodate them. For instance, if someone with a disability that prevents them from lifting heavy objects applies for a warehouse position where employees must consistently lift 50+ pound objects, the disability would interfere with the core job function.
As long as requested accommodations are deemed reasonable and won’t be overly costly or disruptive, it’s your responsibility to provide them to an employee or applicant.
Staying compliant with the ADA is an essential part of running a business in the 21st century. Understanding the legalities and what your responsibilities are regarding accommodations for disabled employees should keep your business running within the confines of the law and prevent any unnecessary complications. More helpful information can be found on the EEOC website.