Are You Protected Under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
ADA cases have one hurdle to overcome that other discrimination cases do not: to be protected by the law, the employee must first prove that he or she is “disabled.” In contrast, an African-American individual does not have to prove his race. In the past, federal courts took a narrow view of who was entitled to protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was passed in response to Supreme Court decisions and ADA regulations that had unduly restricted the definition “disability.” The ADA Amendments Act is intended to broaden that definition and expand worker protection under the ADA. It was signed into law by President G.W. Bush and took effect on January 1, 2009.
As a result of the ADA Amendments Act, millions of Americans will now be entitled to protection from disability discrimination. Most significantly, this new law requires that the courts not consider “mitigating measures” such as medications or prosthetics in determining whether an individual is disabled.
Yet, there is no bright line rule that a particular condition (such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy or bipolar disorder) satisfies the definition of disability. In a typical Americans with Disabilities case, the parties often vehemently disagree over this issue. Ultimately, courts apply a case-by-case analysis of each condition and how it impairs the particular employee.
What Is a “Reasonable Accommodation”?
If you are qualified to do your job but have a disability, your employer is required to make “reasonable accommodations” to ensure that you can perform your job duties. A reasonable accommodation could include:
- Alterations to the work facility, such as adding a wheelchair ramp or an elevator so you can reach your office space
- Changing your job description or schedule so that your disability doesn’t prevent you from fulfilling the job’s essential duties
- Modifying or purchasing adaptive equipment so you can do your job, such as raising your desk to fit your wheelchair or purchasing a special keyboard or phone adapter
As long as the accommodations don’t impose “undue hardship” on the employer, they will be considered reasonable, and the employer will be required to make them.
Take Action to Fight Disability Discrimination