The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

A Message from Patrick Reilly

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against a qualified individual on the basis of disability, and it applies to employers having 15 or more employees. It also requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. There are many intricacies to the ADA which cannot be covered in this blog. However, a few definitions are appropriate.

A disability is defined as  a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. The regulations implementing the ADA do not provide a per se list of impairments, although they do provide specific exclusions for personality traits, economic, cultural or environmental traits or stress and certain conditions and practices. The regulations do identify certain conditions that by their very nature will, in virtually all cases, result in a determination of disability under the ADA because they pose substantial limitations in a major life activity. They include, without limitation, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cerebral palsy and others.

Major life activities include such things as caring for oneself, walking, hearing, learning, seeing, breathing and concentrating, the latter being established in Jane Gagliardo’s case. Whether or not working is a major life activity is determined on a case by case basis, but typically requires a limitation on the ability to perform a class of jobs or broad range of jobs in various classes.

Employees or applicants for a position should make their employer/prospective employer aware of any impairments they believe might affect their ability to perform an essential function of their job. This is particularly so if there is a reasonable accommodation that would enable the employee to perform that task. Likewise, employers should endeavor to determine the extent of any possible impairment, and engage in a meaningful determination of whether or not there is a reasonable accommodation which can be granted without undue hardship. Because of the intricacies of the ADA, and the regulations, it is always a good idea for both the employer and employee to discuss any questions or issues regarding an impaired employee with the Human Relations expert or an attorney.


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