Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The ADA and Disability Accommodations

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The ADA and Disability Accommodations

Article excerpt

The legal status of the ADA, like other employment laws, is evolving over time as a result of court decisions. A critical task of human resource practitioners is to administer the process of providing reasonable accommodation for disabled employees. It has been estimated that there are 43 million Americans with disabilities, or approximately one in six of us. While over a decade has passed since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, fewer men and women with disabilities are employed compared to those without disabilities (only 34% of men and 33% of women with disabilities compared to 95% of men and 82% of women without disabilities), and those with disabilities who are employed tend to work fewer hours on average (approximately one-third less) than those without disabilities. (1) With the increasing need for skilled labor and the difficulty many employers have retaining employees, the effective recruitment and integration of employees with disabilities into the workforce is a necessity To reduce the barriers to employment for individuals with disabilities and to avoid problems, the best action is to maintain an ongoing awareness of the ADA, related court decisions, and an understanding of problems facing individuals who are disabled.

An Overview of the ADA

The ADA makes it illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. The law covers all employment practices (i.e., recruitment, pay, hiring, firing, promotion, job assignments, training, leaves of absence, benefits, layoffs, etc.). Under the ADA, a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The Act protects individuals who have a record of a substantially limiting impairment as well as those who are regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment.

The individual with a disability must be able to perform all the essential functions of the job, with or without the accommodation. This means that the employee must also satisfy the job requirements for educational background, experience, skills, licenses, and any other job-related qualification standards. (2) According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's guidelines (which are deferred to by most courts), employees should request accommodation before performance problems occur when a disability may be a potential factor affecting their performance. (3) Once the issue of disability has been raised, approaches to assist the employees in maintaining the performance standards can be discussed. If disability remains an issue, the employer may request documentation that identifies the functional limitation and the need for reasonable accommodation. The EEOC provides guidelines that require that this process be handled confidentially and uniformly. Medical inquiries have to be specifically related to functional limitations and job performance. (4)

Organizations aren't required to provide a reasonable accommodation if, by doing so, it would cause them an undue hardship. Undue hardship means that an "accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business." (5) Since each situation is different, factors that are considered in determining whether an accommodation is an undue hardship are the cost of the accommodation, the employer's size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of operations. In addition, if a particular accommodation would result in an undue hardship, the organization must consider other approaches that may not cause a hardship. (6)

Finally, if cost is a factor, the organization should also consider whether funding for the accommodation is available from an outside source, such as a vocational rehabilitation agency, and if the cost of providing the accommodation can be offset by state or federal tax credits or deductions. …

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