The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seeks to prevent employers from discriminating against disabled employees. However, the federal law also provides protection for employers against hardships that arise from accommodating disabled employees (https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/disability/ada).

If your business is struggling to provide for disabled employees or you are an employer afraid to terminate the contracts of nonperforming disabled employees, contact an employment lawyer to help you realize your options and save your business.

How does the ADA Cover disability?

Physically and mentally challenged people are entitled to equal protection under the law just like any other American. The ADA is validated by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which holds that no American is to be denied equal protection before the law.

The ADA defines a disabled person as one who has any physical or mental challenges that negatively affect a “major life activity”. A major life activity is any fundamental aspect of a person’s daily life such as talking, learning, listening and walking.

The Act does not cover every business. It only applies to businesses that employ more than 15 people for a period of 20 weeks or more. The law applies to such companies in five critical stages of employment including when:

  • Applying for a job
  • Hiring
  • Promoting
  • Paying salaries and benefits
  • Terminating contracts

An Employer’s Role in the ADA

According to the Act, an employer is prohibited from firing an employee on the grounds of  disability ( http://www.natlawreview.com/article/equal-employment-opportunity-commission-americans-disabilities-act-guidance). In fact, the employer is mandated to accommodate employees who are disabled reasonably so as to make it possible for them to fulfill their duties.

Such reasonable accommodation may include making the office wheelchair accessible or putting up braille signages. Sometimes the changes that the employer is required to make are not necessarily physical changes to the office.  For instance, a disabled employee may be reasonably accommodated by allowing him or her extra leave days as compared to other workers.

When an employee is unable to perform certain work functions because of their disabilities the employer can reassign them to a vacant position. This means that employees with disabilities can be allocated less strenuous posts. However, the employer is not required to change the supervisor of an employee with disabilities.

In essence, the employer is required to address the disabilities of the worker and make the working environment flexible to the challenges of the employee.

Parameters of Reasonable Accommodation

Because the Act applies to small businesses with 15 or more workers, it reasonably foresees the difficulty in implementing accommodation measures on a limited budget. Employers are given exceptions where they are allowed to terminate disabled applicants or employees. These situations include:

  1. Where the core aspects of the business would not allow a disabled employee to work even if reasonable accommodation is provided.
  2. If the monetary expense of accommodating a worker in the business would jeopardize the business. This is where such accommodation would lead to undue hardship.

Undue hardship and small businesses

Undue hardship can be generally defined as an action that places significant challenge and expense on an employer. In the context of the ADA, undue hardship is based on the specific disability of each individual and the degree of “reasonable accommodation” required by the employer. This means that an accommodation becomes an undue hardship to the business when the cost and practical implications of accommodating a disabled worker are too difficult to implement and maintain (https://adata.org/faq/what-considered-undue-hardship-reasonable-accommodation).

Because undue hardship is a very relative concept it is measured on a case by case scenario.

However, three key parameters exist to determine whether an accommodation request would result in undue hardship for a business (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/when-does-reasonable-accommodation-create-undue-hardship.html). These three are:

  1. Cost and nature of request for accommodation
  2. Practicability
  3. Health and safety requirements

If the cost of making the accommodation possible is too high for the business to sustain, then it is regarded as an undue hardship. This allows the business owner to refuse the request and protect the company.

If the changes required to be made at the office are impractical then this is grounds for undue hardship. Hence, the proprietor may reserve the right to make the changes.

If the accommodation requested by the worker with a disability is dangerous to the safety requirements of a business it may qualify as undue hardship.

Essentially, undue hardship is the fine line that separates an unreasonable accommodation request from a reasonable one. Once a request is interpreted as causing undue hardship, the employer has the right to decline the request without breaking any law.

Alcoholism and drug abuse

Recovering drug addicts are protected from discrimination by the Act. However, the Act does not cover alcoholics and other addicts that are unable to perform their jobs as contracted by their employers. Moreover, the Act does not apply to persons using narcotics.

If you or your friends are employers who feel helpless in providing accommodations for disabled employees, contact a lawyer today to realize your options and just how the law protects you and your business.