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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 is a part of the United States code affirming the rights of individuals with disabilities to employment, housing, education, communication, transportation, and other public and private services. It was also amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which took effect on January 1, 2009.  

Who Is Covered Under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as speaking, hearing, seeing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, or working. When the ADAAA was signed into law in 2008, it expanded this definition to include other actions, such as bending or lifting objects. 

How Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Affect Employment?

The ADA added the issues of people with disabilities to the purview of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Created to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC is responsible for finding and remediating discriminatory employment practices. 

If a person with a disability can perform the essential functions of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, then the employer cannot refuse to hire them because of their disability. 

The ADA covers the following employment actions:

  • Recruitment

  • Firing

  • Hiring

  • Training

  • Job assignments

  • Promotions

  • Pay

  • Benefits

  • Layoffs

  • Leave

The ADA also prevents employers from retaliating against disabled persons who assert their rights under the ADA.

What Qualifications Do Employees Need to Be Covered by the ADA?

To qualify for ADA protection, an employee must meet two criteria. First, they need to satisfy the employer’s requirements for the job, including employment experience, skills, licenses, and education. Second, they must be able to perform essential job functions, whether on their own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire a person whose disability prevents them from performing non-essential duties. 

How Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Define Reasonable Accommodation?

Reasonable accommodations are changes or adjustments to a job or work environment that provide accessibility for persons with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations include the following: 

  • Providing or modifying equipment or devices

  • Job restructuring

  • Part-time or modified work schedules

  • Reassignment to a vacant position

  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies

  • Providing readers and interpreters

  • Making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless they can show that the accommodation would create an undue hardship through significant difficulty or expense.

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