An Introduction to the ADA

Your employees are an important part of your business and play a key role in its success. And whether they work in an office, a manufacturing plant, or a warehouse, you want to make sure all of your employees, including those with disabilities, can comfortably and safely perform their jobs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), was signed into law in 1990 to provide protection against discrimination for people with disabilities. Employers with 15 or more employees on 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding year are subject to the ADA.

According to the ADA, “disability” means, with respect to an individual:

  • Having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Having a record of such an impairment
  • Being regarded as having such an impairment

In 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), which clarified and broadened the way courts interpret the term “disability,” thereby giving additional protection to disabled workers. Many individuals with temporarily disabling medical conditions or injuries, including those receiving disability benefits, may now have ADA-covered disabilities.

The Impact on Employers

Title I of the ADA is the area that most affects employers. Given the broadened definition of “disability,” more employees can seek reasonable accommodations under the law and employers must ensure that they are in compliance. The EEOC offers specific guidance for defin­ing “reasonable” in accommodating employee needs. In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or process that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Employers that are not in compliance can be subject to federal actions taken by the EEOC, which is responsible for the enforcement and litigation of ADA-related issues. In addition, employees who feel that their disability has not been accommodated or that they were subject to retaliation due to a disability may pursue legal action against employers through civil proceedings.

Compliance requires employers to assess each reasonable accommodation request on an individual basis and engage in an interactive process (dialogue) with the employee. As part of this process, the employer and the disabled employee communicate with each other about the request, the precise nature of the work-related problem that is prompting the request, how a disability is prompting a need for an accommodation, and alternative accommodations that may meet the employee’s needs. Managers, supervisors, and HR and benefits personnel all play a role in ADA compliance. Training your managers and supervisors is especially important because, as representatives of your organization, their actions, inaction, and lack of knowledge could result in ADA violations for which your organization could be held liable.

Just the Beginning

The issues surrounding ADA compliance are numerous and complex. Consult your legal and HR departments as well as online government sites to learn more about employees with disabilities, accommodation requests, and how to ensure your organization complies with the law.

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.