What is The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
If you are an employee with a disability or work in the Human Resources field (or similar profession), you are likely aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law that was enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008 that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public” according to adata.org, “The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else”. In the work place, certain adjustments must be made to accommodate any employee with a qualifying disability.
What defines a disability?
ADA defines an individual with a disability as “a person with a physical or mental impairment that limits one of their major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.” According to Job Accommodation Network, a major life activity includes, but is not limited to: “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working; and the operation of a major bodily function, including functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin; normal cell growth; and digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions.”
According to this definition, there are many medical conditions that qualify as a disability if it limits one or more of these life activities. However, it is important to note that limited or temporary conditions, such as broken bones or the flu are generally not protected under ADA.
If you fall under one of these categories or have an employee that does, then reasonable accommodation must be provided.
Disabled employees may inform their employers that they will need specific accommodations at work to perform the essential functions of the job. Many disabled employees will require ergonomic changes to the work space, which may require employers to consult with an ergonomics consultant.
According to the Auburn Engineers, some common adjustments are to: “provide readers and interpreters, reassign to a light duty position, job restructuring, or scheduled part-time work.” Some adjustments that may require ergonomic solutions include accommodations that require extra leave time to research and purchase equipment, modification of structures per consultant recommendations, job restructuring, or modifications to the physical site.
Employers must ensure that accommodations exist from the start of the job application process to the duration of employment. To be compliant with the ADA, employers must include the ADA policy in their handbook, refrain from asking about medical conditions during the hiring process, post notices around the work area, define essential and non-essential job functions, establish a process by which employees or applicants can request accommodations (forms), and train staff to recognize when they must comply with ADA standards.
The ADA accommodation process
As an example, Solutions Northwest, Inc. provides an ADA accommodation process that includes these general steps:
- Review accommodation request.
- Meet with subject matter experts to complete the essential function job analysis.
- Meet with the employee to discuss the process, as well as review the essential job analysis, determine specific issues they are having, and review the accommodation request.
- Obtain employee’s physical and/or cognitive capacities and restrictions through appropriate medical providers.
- Submit the essential function job analysis to appropriate medical providers.
- Communicate with medical providers to gain a better understanding of the issues and need for accommodation, when necessary. This is often a meeting with the employee and the medical provider.
- Communicate the accommodation recommendation to the employer and employee.
- The outcome is either:
- The essential functions of the job can be performed with accommodation
- The essential functions of the job cannot be performed with or without accommodation
As with any work law, it is important to do due diligence when researching workplace laws. Be sure to consult the proper experts for assistance and remain proactive about learning and establishing best practices.
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