The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President George Bush last summer, will impact virtually every employer in America when it goes into effect in 1992.
The ADA protects individuals who suffer any physical or mental disability that substantially limits major life activities. In addition to obvious physical impairments, the ADA covers persons suffering from AIDS and other contagious diseases, as long as they do not pose a direct threat to their coworkers. The law also covers rehabilitated drug abusers and alcoholics. Individuals who the employer may perceive to be at high risk of incurring a work-related injury are protected. Obese persons or individuals with cosmetic disfigurements cannot be discriminated against under the law.
The Act does not cover illegal drug use or psychotic disorders resulting from illegal drugs. Homosexuality, sexually deviant disorders, compulsive gambling, pyromania and kleptomania are not included as disabilities.
Every business that employs 25 or more people must adhere to the Act by July 1992; companies that employ 15 or more have two additional years to conform.
The Act does more than outlaw discrimination. ADA requires employers to step forward and make whatever "reasonable accommodations" are necessary for a worker who is known to be disabled but otherwise is qualified to handle the "essential functions" of a job.
Labor lawyers agree that the time to prepare for the Americans with Disabilities Act is now, before it goes into effect. The following conditions will apply under the ADA:
Preemployment medical tests or medical questionnaires will be prohibited. Employers can no longer ask job applicants, " Do you have any disabilities that would preclude you from doing this job? All medical questions must be specific and tailored to the job. For instance, a company can ask, "Can you carry a 50-pound sack up a 10-foot ladder five times daily? " The employer also is obliged to ask what accommodations would help the applicant perform the necessary tasks.
Post-offer medical exams will be allowed only if the company can prove the test is job-related. Employers may still test for illegal drugs, but not for legal prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
Collective bargaining agreements may be overturned by the new legislation. But all medical records must be held in confidence. The employer cannot provide medical records to its union negotiator or explain why special treatment is being afforded to the disabled employee.
Discrimination against anyone perceived to be handicapped or relatives of a disabled-person violates the new law. …