The Americans With Disabilities Act
(ADA or now often ADAA as it was significantly amended by Congress in 2008) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who suffer from a disability. The 2008 amendments significantly broadened the reach of the ADA by addressing a number of opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court that had greatly narrowed the duties the law placed on employers.
The ADA is a complex law as it has a number of significant pieces. Simplified, it requires an employer to attempt to work with an employee who has a disability to try to restructure the employee’s job so that the employee can do the job.
Not all limitations that an employee might have are considered disabilities as the condition or “impairment” must “substantially limit a major life activity.” However, one of the changes made in the 2008 amendments was to greatly broaden the definition of what would be considered a “disability.” Before the amendments, a broken bone would normally not be considered a disability, so the ADA would not have applied, and an employer would have had no duty to consider accommodations. After the amendments, a broken bone normally would be considered a disability, so an employer does have a duty to consider accommodations.
In addition to being disabled, an employee must still be “qualified” before an employer is required to consider providing an accommodation. This term is tricky because there is significant interplay between it and the accommodation itself. On a basic level, to be a “qualified individual with a disability” means that an employee must be able to perform all the “essential functions” of her job, with or without reasonable accommodations. This means foremost that there are some job duties that are so necessary for the position that eliminating them entirely would not be a reasonable accommodation because it would mean the individual was no longer doing her job.
For instance: it would be virtually impossible for a teacher who could not read because of a brain injury to teach unless there was someone else available to do the actual reading. But, requiring a school district to employ someone simply to read to the disabled teacher would not likely be considered a reasonable accommodation. So, it is likely that a teacher who could not read would not be considered qualified to teach because reading is too important to eliminate entirely and requiring the district to provide a reader would not be reasonable.
is a change in some expectation, duty or responsibility, usually but not always relieving the employee of a duty that she cannot do because of her disability.
An example of an accommodation: Allowing an employee who would normally be expected to walk from place to place as a part of his job to use a wheelchair or crutches. It might also be to allow the employee extra time to get from place to place because he cannot move as fast in the wheelchair or on crutches.
As explained above, an employer is only required to provide a reasonable accommodation. There are many factors that go into what is reasonable, including cost, disruption and the effect it has on job performance.
The employer’s obligation is also only to provide a reasonable accommodation, not necessarily the best possible accommodation.
For instance: If an educator can no longer perform a supplemental duty due to a disability, a district may be able relieve may be relieve her of the duty (and discontinue a related stipend) as an accommodation rather than providing an assistant to help.
There are several significant aspects of the ADA and an employer’s duty to accommodate a disability: