There are several federal laws prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 covers federal contractors and programs receiving federal funds. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications. Under both statues, employers are prohibited from discriminating against qualified applicants and employees with disabilities and are required to provide reasonable accommodations for such individuals, unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on the business.
Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act: Employment Provisions – Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which takes effect July 26, 1992, prohibits private employers and state and local governments with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, fringe benefits, job training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. Title I is enforced by the EEOC.
- Who is a “qualified” individual under the ADA?– The ADA provides protection only for qualified individuals with a disability. A qualified individual with a disability is an individual with a disability who, absent the disability, is otherwise qualified for the job.
- What are “essential functions” of the job and how are essential functions determined? – The term “essential functions” refers to the fundamental duties of a job that must be performed with or without reasonable accommodation. The basic rule of thumb for essential functions of the job is that someone with a disability need not be qualified to do everything a job requires, but only those essential functions that are at the heart of the job.
- Who is disabled under the ADA?– An individual is disabled under the ADA in three different circumstances: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.
- What is a Reasonable Accommodation? – Job accommodation under the ADA refers to the reasonable amount of expense, effort or restructuring that an employer must undertake to enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way that jobs are customarily performed that enables a worker with a disability.
Reasonable accommodation may be determined by consulting informally with the applicant or employee with the disability, who may suggest a reasonable accommodation based upon his/her own life or work experience. In addition, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which has been established by the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities may be contacted. JAN can provide relevant options on how to accommodate an employee or a union member with a disability. JAN’s toll free number is 1-800-526-7234. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s help line at 1-800-669-EEOC, state or local vocational rehabilitation agencies; or state or local organizations representing or providing services to individuals with disabilities may also be contacted.
- “Undue Hardship” Exception from the Reasonable Accommodation Requirement – Failure to provide reasonable accommodation may be justified where the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. Employers are not required under the ADA to provide an accommodation that would be unduly, costly, extensive, substantial, disruptive, or that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. Whether a particular accommodation poses an undue hardship will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Public Accommodation Provisions – Title III of the ADA, which is enforced by the Department of Justice, requires all public accommodations to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Public accommodations include, but are not limited to, places of lodging, restaurants, gathering places such as auditoriums, movie theaters, convention centers, service establishments such as Laundromats, banks, educational facilities and office buildings. Union halls are covered under Title III and must be accessible to members with disabilities.
The ADA states that architectural and communications barriers in existing facilities must be removed if removal is “readily achievable.” Although there is no specific definition of readily achievable, the term takes into account the nature and cost of the accommodation, the size and cost of the accommodation, the size and financial resources of the public accommodation and the type of entity.
The ADA requires that meetings and conferences be planned with the needs of the disabled in mind. Under the ADA, disabled members must be offered the same services as non-disable members, including access, food, and transportation. In addition, materials may have to be provided in alternative forms such as Braille, large print, or on cassette tape. Videos should be captioned and sign language interpreters should be available for hearing impaired members.
For further information on ADA requirements affecting public accommodations and state and local government services, contact the Department of Justice.
Department of Justice
Office of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Civil Rights Division
P.O. Box 6618
Washington, DC 20035-6118
(202) 514-0301 (Voice)
(202) 514-0381 (Hearing impaired)
The Rehabilitation Act of 1974 – Government contractors and subcontractors must take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. No otherwise qualified individual with a disability may, solely on the basis of his disability, be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, or under any program or activity conducted by either an executive agency of the federal government or the U.S. Postal Service.
This information is provided for general educational purposes only. Nothing herein should be construed as legal advice or representation. Questions about the law and specific scenarios should be directed to an attorney specializing in this area who can analyze all relevant factors.