Skip to main content

ADA Awareness for Managers: Understanding Rights, Responsibilities, and Compliance

By February 22, 2024March 5th, 2024No Comments

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not interfere with your right to hire the best-qualified applicant, nor does it impose any affirmative action obligations. The ADA simply prohibits you from discriminating against a qualified applicant or employee because of their disability.

Your organization’s managers need to be well-informed about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure compliance and fair treatment of employees and applicants with disabilities.

First, let’s take a quick look at what the ADA is:

The ADA prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities during hiring, firing, promotions, pay, and training. (Some state laws apply to smaller employers.)

  • You can’t ask about a person’s disability during hiring.
  • Job offers can be conditional on a medical exam, as long as all applicants take the same exam.
  • The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
  • Employers must make reasonable accommodations for the person’s disability unless doing so would create an “undue hardship” for the organization.

Next are key points managers must know about the ADA to stay compliant and avoid landing themselves and the organization in legal hot water.

Who is protected?

The ADA covers individuals with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities, including conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, and depression. It also protects those with a history of impairments or perceived disabilities. Not all disabilities are visible.

What are employer responsibilities?

Employers must ensure equal access to jobs, compensation, and promotions and prevent harassment based on disability. Medical information must be kept confidential, as well as reasonable accommodations provided to assist disabled employees.

Disability-related questions

During hiring, employers cannot ask about a person’s disability. After a job offer, disability-related questions and medical exams are allowed but must be conducted uniformly for all applicants in the same job category.

Reasonable Accommodations

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to help disabled employees perform essential job functions. Accommodations that cause undue hardship (think unreasonable expense or creating a new position), are not required.

Safety concerns

Employers can inquire about disabilities or conduct medical exams if safety or performance issues arise. If an employee (disabled or not) poses a direct threat to safety, appropriate action may be taken.

What about alcohol and drug use?

Current illegal drug use is not protected; however, individuals in recovery from alcoholism may be covered. Employers can act against substance use violations and may need to offer accommodations for employees in recovery.

The ADA may be simple on the surface; however, it can be complex and a legal landmine when not followed carefully. This means managers ought to collaborate with HR to ensure compliance with the ADA and handle disability-related matters sensitively, consistently, and legally. The interactive process outlined in the ADA is crucial for addressing accommodation requests and maintaining a fair and inclusive workplace environment.

For more information regarding educating your supervisors, please reach out to JAN. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an amazing resource for all things ADA-related. JAN’s expertise lies in all things ADA and they are available to anyone, employee or employer, for advice on ADA in the workplace. Another great read from JAN is this article from JAN regarding educating the workforce about ADA.

Glossary of ADA Terms

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
    A civil rights law that expanded protections to people with disabilities in all aspects of life; which until then had been limited to The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, or State disability laws. With passage of the ADA people with disabilities are guaranteed equal opportunity in employment, services provided by state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.
  • ADA Amendments Act of 2008
    Amended the ADA by making changes as to how the definition of disability is interpreted, and was intended to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
  • Disability
    The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual: 1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, 2) has a record of such impairment, or 3) being regarded as having such an impairment.
  • Ergonomics
    The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing fatigue and discomfort. Employers use this practice to prevent injury on the job. Ergonomic assessment adjustments may or may not be part of a reasonable accommodation. All employees (regardless of disability) are entitled to request an ergonomic assessment.
  • Essential functions
    Functions that are fundamental to accomplishing the job. The employer will determine what functions of a job are essential. An individual must be able to perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • Interactive conversation/process
    A flexible, interactive conversation may be held between the employee and the employer to identify possible options for reasonable accommodation.
  • Major Life Activities
    Examples include caring for oneself, seeing, walking, speaking, hearing, breathing, learning, communicating, or working; it also includes major bodily functions. The list is non-exhaustive; these are just some examples.
  • Qualified individual with a disability
    An individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.
  • Reasonable accommodation
    A modification or adjustment that enables a person with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of a position, or to enjoy the same benefits and privileges of employment as other employees.
  • Substantially limited
    An individual is substantially limited in a major life activity when limited in the ability to perform a major life activity in comparison to an average person in the general population.
  • Undue hardship
    An action requiring significant difficulty or expense, when considering the resources and circumstances of the employer, in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. Undue hardship refers not only to financial difficulty, but to reasonable accommodations that are unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. An employer must assess on a case-by-case basis whether a particular reasonable accommodation would cause undue hardship.

About Us

For more than 40 years, 501(c) Services has been a leader in offering solutions for unemployment costs, claims management, and HR support to nonprofit organizations. Two of our most popular programs are the 501(c) Agencies Trust and 501(c) HR Services. We understand the importance of compliance and accuracy and are committed to providing our clients with customized plans that fit their needs.

Contact us today to see if your organization could benefit from our services.

Are you already working with us and need assistance with an HR or unemployment issue? Contact us here.

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources.

(Images by Wasifreelance91 and Freepik)

501c Services newsletter sign up - popup graphic envelope letter

Keep up with
the news

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for timely updates, news, and events.