Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

The Americans with Disabilities Act: An Employer's Perspective

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

The Americans with Disabilities Act: An Employer's Perspective

Article excerpt

People differ in terms of the opportunities they have for acquiring wealth, status, and power. An individual's opportunities for success may depend, in part, on talent, luck, timing, experience, and training. Unfortunately, individuals may also be limited by an employer's preconceived notions as to their abilities and worth if they are disabled. Thus, although a person may have all the qualifications for a certain job, an incumbent employee or applicant may be denied an opportunity simply because he or she has a physical or mental impairment.

The patchwork quilt of American society is replete with examples of disabled individuals who in one way or another made significant contributions to society. One only has to remember the image of four-time elected, polio-stricken President Franklin Roosevelt, confined to a wheelchair or walking with braces. No one would argue that his physical limitation prevented him from making major contributions -- he led America out of the Great Depression and to victory in World War II. Yet, American society has tended to look on successful disabled people as special cases, and not as representative of a sizable minority population whose less conspicuous members' capabilities have gone largely unappreciated.

Not only are disabled workers unappreciated, they have been discriminated against in employment practices and isolated from job opportunities. The disabled account for 43 million Americans and are the nation's largest minority group. Yet, a Harris poll reveals that 67% of this minority are unemployed. And, in terms of salaries, the employed disabled earn only 64% of what their nondisabled co-workers make. While the federal government spends approximately $170 billion on programs and benefits for the disabled, the Harris survey found that 82% of all disabled people would give up their government benefits in favor of full-time employment (Harris, 1987).

Contrary to common belief, no federal law prevented private employers from discriminating against disabled persons prior to 1990. The oft-cited Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires only federal contractors to take affirmative action to hire or promote qualified disabled individuals. While approximately 41 states had antidiscrimination laws that supplement or fill the void of federal law for disabled workers (Sovereign, 1989), their protections differed greatly and uniformity was needed. Consequently, Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and President Bush signed the legislation into law on July 26, 1990.

Purpose and Scope of the Act

The legislative purpose of the ADA is fourfold: (1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities; (2) to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards regarding discrimination against individuals with disabilities; (3) to ensure that the federal government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in the Act on behalf of disabled individuals and, (4) to invoke the sweep of congressional authority to address the major areas of discrimination faced by people with disabilities (Kelly and Aalberts, 1990).

The Act bars discrimination against the disabled in a variety of contexts, including access to public facilities and employment. The ADA's employment discrimination provisions are phased in beginning in July 1992 and reach their full scope in 1994.

Provisions of the Act

* What Employers are Covered by the Act?

For two years following the effective date of the Act (i.e., from July, 1992, to 1994), only employees are covered. Thereafter, employers with 15 or more employees are also covered. The only exemptions are U.S. wholly-owned government corporations and bona fide tax-exempt private membership clubs.

* How Does the ADA Define "Disability?"

Disability is defined in three ways: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual; or, (2) a record of such an impairment; or, (3) being regarded as having such an impairment. …

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