The Americans with Disabilities Act is one the most frequent causes of workplace-related litigation with 26,000 violations claimed in 2017. Many of these claims result in settlements outside of court and can cost employers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every company with 15 or more employees is covered by the ADA, meaning every employer must understand what the ADA applies to and how to handle employees with disabilities.

As you construct your HR policy, the people you hire and any Google searches you make will likely inform as to what you should and shouldn’t do. The ADA is relevant to every industry; something ConnectedHR always considers when updating or structuring a client’s HR policy. It’s important- here’s what you need to know.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities that impair major and day-to-day activities. These impairments impact the following:

  • Major senses (sight or hearing)
  • Comfortable ambulation (walking, sitting, general movement)
  • Constant pain or discomfort
  • Mental abilities (dyslexia, mental retardation, etc.)
  • Psychological State (Schizophrenia, PTSD, certain addictions, etc.)
  • And more- the EEOC website covers these areas more thoroughly

If an employee is subject to any of these conditions (and more…), the employer may not discriminate on the basis of that condition. You can’t even ask about these during interviews or regular conversation. So, said employer may not take these conditions into account when considering the following:

  • Hiring and Termination
  • Pay and Advancement
  • Benefits
  • Job training
  • And more- the ADA National Network has the specific language of the law

Unless given specific exception by the EEOC or a local equivalent, such as where a position may require a person to be able to see, every employer in the United States must adhere to this.

There several conditions which many expect to be included in the ADA, but are not. We tend to assume conditions related to aging or cancer or protected under ADA. They are not. When making decisions regarding whether or not a condition is relevant, be sure to consult a legal professional or HR consultant.

Why Do We Have the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The short version is that, without it, employers would be more likely to turn away applicants based on these disabilities, implement oppressive company policy regarding their disabled employees, terminate healthy employees who may become disabled, or any number of other terrible things. The employment rate among disabled workers would drop significantly, depriving the workforce or a significant number of very able workers, and putting further strain on social services.

It’s a big picture issue that began with the passing of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 of the act set a precedent for guaranteeing certain rights of disabled workers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, with a 2008 Amendments Act passed later on. This refined the definition of “disability” and streamlined the process by which an employee can be recognized as disabled.

Essentially, the ADA has been made deliberately broad and inclusive in most areas, meaning employers and HR heads need to be informed as to what exactly constitutes a disability.

Now, the ADA covers temporary disabilities, conditions that require treatment (even if the treatment remedies the condition entirely) and situations where a person may be perceived as disabled. A notable exception to this is in cases where a person’s poor eyesight requires corrective lenses. If those lenses reasonably correct their vision, they are not disabled. In terms of times when a person may be perceived as disabled- an example would be a burn victim. While they may not be in pain or injured in a way not superficial, they may be treated as disabled by others, which is covered.

Most Common ADA Violations

Right off the bat, there are steps every company can take to eliminate the most obvious and common ADA violations. Updates to your company include

  • Accessibility- Ramps, elevators, etc. Curbs need to have slopes or cutbacks. Just ask whether a person with limited movement could get into your building.
  • Bathrooms- Appropriately sized stalls, as well as the specific mounting of toilets. This refers to the distance a toilet is mounted from the interior wall, which is the most common violation.
  • Clutter- Crowded aisles, blocked hallways and even a trash can behind a door all constitute ADA violations.
  • Conduct- This is more difficult, but it’s still very important. As an employer, you’re really not allowed to ask about disabilities. At all. For example, if someone walks into a restaurant with a dog, and you say “No dogs allowed” and they tell you it’s a service animal, you can’t ask them to prove. You can’t ask what it’s for. You can’t decline to serve them on the basis of having a dog, regardless if it behaves like a service animal. Don’t ask.

The ADA is an incredibly important piece of legislation, helping millions of people. It’s also a minefield. Every single HR department and HR services firm has to deal with ADA claims and know how to create an environment where those violations just don’t happen or seem to happen. Be sure to contact an experienced HR team to ensure you’re workers, and your company, are safe.