The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and amendments apply to employers with 15 or more employees. These employers cannot discriminate against individuals with disabilities in hiring, promoting, retaining and other aspects of employment. The ADA requires affected employers to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to allow these individuals to perform their job duties. Employers do not have to provide accommodations if doing so would be an undue hardship.
A reasonable accommodation is any change in the workplace or the way things are customarily done that provides an equal employment opportunity to an individual with a disability. While there are some things that are not considered reasonable accommodations (e.g., removal of an essential job function or personal use items such as a hearing aid that is needed on and off the job), reasonable accommodations can cover most things that enable an individual to apply for a job, perform a job, or have equal access to the workplace and employee benefits.
An employer’s obligation to provide accommodations begins at the very start of the employment process. Employers with 15 or more employees must ensure applicants with disabilities can apply for jobs. This makes employers that recruit at locations that are physically inaccessible open to possible discrimination charges. In addition, employers that have online applications should also provide alternative means for people with disabilities to apply, unless they can show that doing so would create undue hardship.
Employers must also provide accommodations when an employee needs accommodation to perform the essential functions of the job, to gain access to the workplace or to enjoy “equal access to the benefits and privileges of employment,” such as trainings and office-sponsored events.
Providing accommodations is often not as difficult as you might think. Accommodations vary with the situation and can include specialized equipment, facility modifications, adjustments to work schedules or job duties, as well as a whole range of other creative solutions.
Employers concerned about accommodations can contact the Job Accommodation Network (askjan.org). This service of the U.S. Department of Labor provides free consulting services for employers of all sizes.