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Equal Employment Opportunity: ADA Law & Regulations

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  • 0:02 Worker's Compensation…
  • 1:34 Disability Defined
  • 2:18 Reasonable Accommodations
  • 3:47 Medical Questions and Exams
  • 5:34 Enforcement
  • 6:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
One of the most important employment laws on the books for human resource managers is the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this lesson, you'll learn some of its key provisions and concepts. A short quiz follows.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

Troy is an Iraq War vet who lost his legs in service to his country. Upon returning from the war, he attended college and earned a bachelor's degree in accounting. He is currently looking for a job. He's a little nervous about his prospects because he is confined to a wheelchair and is concerned that his disability will be a mark against him in selection.

Troy decides to discuss his worries with Bill, an old buddy from the army who now works in human resources. His friend understands Troy's concerns but assures Troy that there is nothing to worry about. He explains that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against job applicants or employees based upon a disability. However, Bill does note that not all employers are subject to the ADA. The Act only applies to employers who employ 15 or more employees.

Troy discovers from Bill that the ADA protections are very broad. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities in employment, including hiring, firing, layoffs, pay, benefits, promotions, training and any other term or condition of employment. The ADA also prohibits workplace harassment that results in either a hostile work environment or an adverse employee action, such as demotion or termination.

Disability Defined

Bill explains that not all people that may think they are disabled are considered disabled for the purposes of the ADA. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a person is considered to be disabled if 'he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.' Major life activities include such things as walking, seeing, hearing, standing, speaking, learning, reading, concentrating, communicating and working. This list is not exhaustive.

Reasonable Accommodations

Troy is still not completely convinced. He tells Bill that there are certain requirements that he needs just to work, such as a desk that accommodates wheelchairs and ramps or elevators instead of stairs. Bill tells him that the ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee or applicant.

A reasonable accommodation is just a change in an individual's work environment that assists a disabled person to either apply for a job, perform job duties or receive the benefits of employment. For example, a reasonable accommodation may include providing a work desk for Troy that will accommodate a wheel chair. Another example would be providing a larger computer monitor for an employee with vision problems.

Bill does explain that there are limits to what is reasonable. An employer does not have to provide an accommodation if providing it would impose an undue hardship on the employer. According to the EEOC, 'Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer's size, financial resources and the needs of the business.' Bill also warns Troy that an employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation he may request so long as it provides an accommodation that works.

Medical Questions and Exams

The ADA strictly limits an employer's ability to ask medical-related questions and require medical examinations during the application process. Generally, an employer may not ask applicants medical questions and whether they have disabilities prior to being offered a job. However, an employer is entitled to ask whether the applicant can perform the job. After an offer has been extended, the applicant can be required to answer medical questions but only if all new employees in the same position have to answer the same questions.

Medical exams are generally not allowed prior to the extension of a job offer. But just like with medical questions, once a job is offered, an applicant may be required to undergo an exam as a condition of employment but only if all new employees that are working in the same position have had to take the same exam.

Bill also warns Troy that once hired, an employer can require medical exams under a limited set of circumstances. A medical exam can be required by the employer to support an employee's request for a reasonable accommodation. For example, an employee requesting a special computer monitor because of vision problems may be required to undergo a vision test to see if the accommodation is necessary. Additionally, an employer can require a medical exam if the employer is concerned that the disabled individual cannot perform the job successfully or safely because of a medical issue. Bill does assure Troy that all medical records and information must be kept confidential and separate from the regular personnel files.

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