General Business

Accommodating the Disabled

What is a disability?

Our definition of disability comes from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.

The 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.

If an employee informs you that they have a disability and requests an accommodation, you should begin the interactive process. Basically, you and the employee determine what, if anything, can be done to accommodate them so that the essential functions of the job get done to your standards and the employee is able to continue to have the equal benefits and privileges of employment. As part of this conversation, you may request a doctor’s note to substantiate the disability.

Can I ask applicants if they need a reasonable accommodation to perform the job?

No. For the most part, asking an applicant whether they need an accommodation would constitute a pre-employment disability inquiry, which is prohibited under the ADA. Prior to making an offer of employment, you should only ask whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation. You can and should, however, describe the physical demands of the job as well as the physical layout of the workspace in both job postings and job descriptions. Doing that will enable potential applicants to determine for themselves whether the job is something they can physically do.

Be careful not to exaggerate the physical requirement of the job – doing this could be discriminatory if the requirement is not job-related.

Can you explain undue hardship?

Under the ADA, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, so long as doing so does not create an undue hardship on the organization. The basic definition is an action that creates a significant difficulty or expense.

An undue hardship on the employer could be the cost of, duration of, or disruption from an accommodation. It will always be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

An employer cannot claim undue hardship based on employee or customer fears or prejudices toward the individual’s disability. An undue hardship also cannot be based on the possibility that a reasonable accommodation could have a negative impact on the morale of other employees. Employers, however, may be able to show undue hardship where a reasonable accommodation would be excessively disruptive to other employees’ ability to work.

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