The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability. The ADA defines “employer” as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year…” (42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(A)).
The ADA defines “qualified individual with a disability” as an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.
Several aspects of the ADA you should be aware of:
“Essential functions” of the job. A person with a disability might not be able to perform all aspects of the job as well as a person without a disability; however, you must determine whether these are “essential functions” of the position.
For example, a bookkeeper might be expected to retrieve file boxes from storage as part of the job, but this is not an essential function of bookkeeping. A person confined to a wheelchair due to a physical disability could fulfill the role of bookkeeper if otherwise qualified.
“Disability” includes a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Not all individuals with a disability have readily recognized impairments, such as paralysis or blindness.
“Reasonable accommodation” is often required by an employer to assist an employee with a disability in performing the job. For example, while prep cooks tend to work on their feet, it might be considered reasonable accommodation to set up a workstation that allows someone with a circulatory disorder to be seated for a large percentage of the shift.
“Undue hardship” takes into account the burden placed on the employer in accommodating an individual with a disability. Among the factors considered in determining whether an undue hardship exists are the cost of the accommodation, the impact on the business’s resources, and the size and type of business.
A detailed job description outlining all essential functions and requirements of the job is an important first step to avoiding complicated or uncomfortable hiring decisions. If the applicant must be able to lift 50 pounds, be available on weekends, or possess a valid driver’s license, then clearly state that in the job description.
Questions you should avoid in job interviews include:
- Do you have a disability that will prevent you from doing this job?
- Will your disability interfere with your ability to do this job?
- How many days were you sick last year?
- Do you have (name of disease or disorder)?
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