How the Americans with Disabilities Act impacts business decisions Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2010

As a business owner or manager, it is often difficult to determine what is appropriate when hiring and managing individuals with a disability. Likewise, employees should be aware of the laws that protect against disability discrimination.

Title 1 of the American Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA Amendments Act) emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis. The Act makes important changes to the definition of the term “disability” by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) ADA regulations. The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.

Also, the ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate a particular applicant’s or employee’s known disabilities to the specific duties of a particular job under certain circumstances, and to not inquire about unknown disabilities or use stereotypes regarding medical conditions.

And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg, says Joanne Tegethoff, an account executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Because of this, employers would be well served to be fully educated and informed about the ADA.

“There are many concerns regarding disability discrimination and the ADA regulations,” says Tegethoff. “One of the biggest questions I get from small business owners is how the ADA regulations will impact their business decisions.”

Smart Business spoke with Tegethoff about the ADA, hiring and managing individuals with a disability, and what to be aware of when it comes to disability discrimination.

What employers are covered by the ADA?

An employer must have a certain number of employees in order for the law to be enforced. This number varies depending on the type of employer. The law covers business owners and private employers if they have 15 or more employees who work for the employer at least 20 calendar weeks (in the current year or prior year).

What is the definition of a disability?

Not everyone with a disability is protected by the law. In order to be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law. A person can show that he or she has a disability in one of the following ways:

  • The employee must be disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing or learning).
  • The employee must be disabled if he or she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission).
  • The employee may be disabled if he or she is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not temporary (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he or she does not have such an impairment).
  • The employee may be disabled if he or she is unable to perform his or her ‘essential functions.’

What are essential functions?

These are the fundamental job duties that the employee must be able to perform on their own or with the help of reasonable accommodation. It is critical to incorporate essential functions into a job description.

What is reasonable accommodation?

If needed, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation, an adjustment or modification that allows a qualified employee with a disability to do his or her job. The employer is not required to guess whether a reasonable accommodation is needed, though once an employer knows of the need for an accommodation, it must meet that need. The employer is not required to provide the particular accommodation an employee requests if another accommodation will do. But the employer must engage in the ‘interactive process,’ which is a dialogue with the employee about accommodation that will meet that person’s needs.

What disabilities would not be covered?

Employees and applicants currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs are not covered by the ADA. Tests for illegal drugs are not subject to the ADA’s restrictions on medical examinations. Employers may hold illegal drug users and alcoholics to the same performance standards as other employees.

Your benefits adviser should keep you informed and educated regarding your responsibilities as an employer as they pertain to ADA regulations.

Joanne Tegethoff is an account executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach her at (412) 456-7000 or joanne.tegethoff@jrgadvisors.net.