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What is considered a disability in the workplace?

Many people know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from suffering discrimination due to disabilities in the workplace. But what does that really mean? When an employee is facing discrimination, he or she may have questions about who is covered by the ADA and what constitutes a "disability" under the act. This post aims to answer some of those common questions.

What employers are covered by the ADA?

The ADA protects employees who work for a private employer (with 15 or more employees), state and local governments, unions and employment agencies from disability discrimination. Discrimination can take place in all types of employment practices; this may be in recruiting, hiring, promotions, demotions, terminations, training and any other terms and conditions of employment.

What is a disability under the ADA?

In order to be protected, an employee must have a disability as defined by the ADA. The act does not contain a detailed list of all types of disabilities that are considered covered. Instead, an individual is considered to have a disability if he or she has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." Major life activities can range from eating, sleeping, walking and caring for oneself to reading, thinking and concentrating. Activities would also include being able to operate major bodily functions and major medical or mental illnesses. There is a very wide range of possible disabilities under the ADA. If protected, an employee has the right to a reasonable accommodation.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation can be any change or modification made to enable a qualified employee with a disability to perform his or her job duties, unless it puts an undue hardship on the employer. What is reasonable will depend on the disability. This can be a very small change, like a larger monitor or offering flexible working hours to accommodate medical appointments. To larger modifications like transferring the employee to another work location or providing unpaid time off. The ADA provides employees and employers the means to work together and come to an agreement on an accommodation.

What is undue hardship?

An employer does not have to provide an accommodation that is considered an undue hardship. This means that the employer must show that the requested accommodation was too expensive, difficult or disruptive to the workplace.

Contact an attorney for clarification

Under the ADA, the employer has a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee suffering from a disability. The statue is not terribly cut and dry on what constitutes a disability and what accommodations may be reasonable or not.

If an employee has any questions about whether he or she is covered by the ADA or if an accommodation has been denied, it is important to speak to an attorney.

Likewise, if an employer is not sure whether an employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation, an attorney experienced in employment law can help review the circumstances, explain the law and assist in making the right steps toward compliance with ADA protections.

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