Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act says that many employers cannot discriminate against a qualified person because of that person's disability during the employer's job application procedures for hiring, advancement or discharge. Such discrimination is also prohibited in employee compensation, job training or any other aspects of employment.
How am I protected under Title I of the ADA?
To be protected under Title I of the ADA, you must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. For example, walking, seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks, caring for yourself, or working are major life activities that may be limited. You also could be protected if you have a record of such an impairment in your medical files. Another way you could be protected is if the employer thinks you have a physical or mental impairment. For example, if you have visible scars that do not impair you, you could be protected if you are regarded as being substantially limited. The final way you could be protected is if you are discriminated against because of your relationship or association with a person who has a disability. For instance, you cannot be denied health insurance by your employer because you have a child with a disability and the employer is concerned that its health insurance rates will go up. In addition to having a disability, you must be "qualified" for the position, either with or without reasonable accommodation, and be able to perform the essential functions of the job. In other words, you must meet the required skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the job that you want or currently have.
The term "reasonable accommodation" includes:
Making the facilities used by employees readily accessible to and useable by people with disabilities;
Restructuring the job, such as making it part-time, changing work schedules or reassigning the person to a vacant position;
Obtaining or modifying equipment or devices;
Adjusting or modifying exams, training materials or policies; and
Providing qualified readers or interpreters.
An employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to a qualified person with a disability unless the accommodation would be an "undue hardship" on the operation of the business. An undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or expensive. Employers look at several things to determine if an accommodation is an undue hardship to their business. In general, a larger employer will be expected to make accommodations requiring greater effort or expense than would a smaller employer. As part of an interactive process, the employer must discuss possible accommodations with the qualified person; however, the employer may select any effective accommodation, even if it is not the one preferred by the employee.
May I be asked about a disability during the interview for a job?
No. An employer may not ask you about a disability or make you take a medical exam before you are offered a job. Employers may ask if you can perform specific job functions. The employer also may decide whether to offer you a job based on the results of a medical exam, but only if an exam is required for all entering employees in similar jobs. Employers can test for illegal drug use and may prohibit use of illegal drugs and alcohol in the work place. Employers can require that individuals may not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.
Legal editor: Lana Traynor, January 2012