Since its passage in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has helped millions of Americans get and keep good jobs. The actual law is much broader than that, covering access for all disabled persons to government, transportation and communications. All companies with 15 or more employees must abide by the ADA.
Despite being around for a long time and becoming an integral part of employment law, there is some confusion about what it does and does not cover. Employers do make mistakes in their interpretation all the time, and cases are brought by wronged employees and potential employees . It’s important to know just what the ADA is and what your rights are if you have disabilities.
Who the ADA covers
You are considered “disabled” under the ADA if you have a physical or mental impairment that limits a “major life activity”. In layman’s terms, this means you have trouble getting around, seeing, hearing or anything else that is part of the ordinary life of a person.
Employers are required to be able to make “reasonable accommodations” to qualified employees under ADA. That doesn’t mean that any disabled person is qualified for any job, however. If all it takes is something simple to make it possible for them to work, that is what the law requires. Examples might include wheelchair ramps, companion dogs for vets with PTSD and things like that.
What the ADA covers
Most of the cases based on the ADA come at hiring time. But the ADA covers all aspects of employment, including pay rates, job assignments, promotion, training opportunities and promotions. All disabled workers are entitled to the same protections in all aspects of their jobs, not just hiring.
This also includes harassment on the job. That does not mean that a simple joke or off-color remark about disability is covered, but if that contributes to a hostile work environment it may be. It includes all employees, too, and not just supervisors.
Can the ADA help you?
If your disability can be accommodated without what the ADA calls an “undue hardship,” your employer must provide an accommodation. It doesn’t matter if you had your disability at the time of hiring, were hurt on the job or became ill while on the job. If you can still do your job with a small adjustment, you are entitled to all the same rights as any other employee.
If your disability is keeping you from either being hired or advancing on the job like anyone else, you may have a claim under the ADA. Learn about your options.