Many employers encounter a big surprise when confronting a law that dramatically expands the number of people protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The legislation, called the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), broadly defines a disability to include physical or mental impairments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches and other conditions which can be mitigated through medication. Under the ADAAA, all impairments (even if corrected with medication or other devices) are covered and protected under the ADA. The only exception is for imperfect eyesight that can be corrected with eyeglasses or other lenses.
While the ADAAA is viewed as good for employees struggling with disabilities, it’s also viewed as a challenge for employers.
The ADA covers all private employers, state and local governments and education institutions that employ 15 or more people — prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities who are qualified for a job.
Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for all qualified individuals with a disability unless doing so would cause the employer an undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations may range from granting extended leave or flexible hours to an employee to replacing fluorescent lighting or purchasing ergonomic work stations.
The challenge is determining what is reasonable. Obviously, the larger the employer, the higher the expectations. To protect themselves, employers should
Review job descriptions to be sure they cover all needed aspects of each specific function. Such descriptions will serve as an employer’s defense should a disability keep an employee from performing the necessary duties required for his or her job.
Respond quickly and proactively if an employee presents with an obvious disability or notifies the employer of a disability. Be careful and diligent to ensure the disability plays no role in hiring, promoting, firing and other employment-related decisions.
Keep updated policy and procedure manuals, especially as they pertain to addressing employees’ requests for accommodations.
Engage in interactive dialogues with employees who request accommodations.
Keep detailed records of accommodations requests, including how each request is handled and the reasons for decisions made.
The law may seem intimidating for employers, but most will be protected by remembering two key points: (1) if an employee with a disability can perform all of his or her essential job functions, employers should do their best to accommodate him or her; and (2) if accommodating an employee would create a substantial hardship that can be measured and quantified, the employer may have grounds for denying the accommodation.
Originally appeared in the River Valley Business Report.
Thomas H. Taylor is an attorney with Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC, (http://www.johnsflaherty.com), a full-service law firm based in La Crosse, Wis. According to the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC, has more top-rated lawyers than any other La Crosse law firm.