The Americans With Disabilities Act - An Employer's Responsibilities

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October 2, 2006

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. The Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act, which is similar to the ADA in many respects, covers employers with one or more employees. This article addresses a number of disability law issues relevant to employers.

Who is protected by the ADA? The ADA applies to a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (like walking, standing, or breathing).

Examples include individuals who have physical conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, severe forms of arthritis, hypertension, or carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as individuals with mental impairments such as major depression, bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, and mental retardation.

An individual with a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without an accommodation, in order to be protected by the ADA. The individual must also be otherwise qualified for the position.

This means that an individual must be able to satisfy the job requirements for educational background, employment experience, skills, licenses, and any other job-related qualification standards.

What qualifies as an essential function? Essential functions are the fundamental job duties of the position. Relevant factors include:

  • whether the reason the position exists is to perform that function;
  • the number of other employees available to perform the function; and
  • the degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function.

    What employment practices are covered? The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate in all employment practices, including recruitment, hiring, firing, pay, promotions, job assignments, training, leave, layoffs, benefits, etc. In addition, the ADA prohibits an employer from retaliating against an applicant or employee for asserting his or her rights under the ADA.

    The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against an applicant or employee, whether disabled or not, because of the individual's relationship or association with an individual with a disability.

    What does the ADA require an employer to do? Employers covered by the ADA have to make sure that people with disabilities:

    • have an equal opportunity to apply for jobs and to work in jobs for which they are qualified;
    • have an equal opportunity to be promoted;
    • have equal access to benefits and privileges of employment that are offered to other employees; and
    • are not harassed because of their disability.

    Further, an employer is also required to provide a reasonable accommodation if a person with a disability needs one in order to apply for a job, perform a job, or enjoy benefits equal to those offered to other employees. An employer does not have to provide any accommodation that would pose an undue hardship.

    Continue on for information about reasonable accommodation, undue hardship, and health and safety.


    Mel Muskovitz is a member of the Employment and Labor Section in the Ann Arbor office of Dykema Gossett PLLC. Other articles written by Mr. Muskovitz can be viewed at Dykema Gossett. Mr. Muskovitz can be reached at (734) 214-7633 or by email.

    Disclaimer: Although Mel Muskovitz is an attorney, because this website is read by people from all states and from countries all over the world, the advice offered is correct, but different laws may govern your approaches to human resources. Please check with an employment law attorney to ascertain your decisions, policies, and practices meet the legal standards where you live and practice.

    This article contains an overview.

    It is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of the subject. Further, because every set of facts and circumstances may raise different legal issues, this article is not intended to be and should not be regarded as a legal opinion.

    In the first part of this article Attorney Mel Muskovitz discussed ADA requirements for employers.

    What is a reasonable accommodation? Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

    Accommodations vary depending upon the needs of the individual applicant or employee. Not all people with disabilities (or even all people with the same disability) will require the same accommodation.

    Reasonable accommodations may, under some circumstances, include:

    • purchasing equipment or modifying existing equipment;
    • making changes to facilities or work areas;
    • shifting responsibilities to other employees for minor tasks;
    • adjusting arrival or departure times, providing periodic breaks, or altering when certain tasks are performed; and/or
    • allowing an employee to use accrued paid leave, and providing additional unpaid leave once an employee has exhausted all available leave.

    What is an undue hardship? Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of such factors as:

    • the nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
    • the impact of the accommodation on other employees and the organization’s ability to conduct business; and
    • the size, type and overall financial resources of the employer.

    If providing a particular accommodation would result in undue hardship, an employer should consider whether another accommodation exists that would not.

    Can an employer consider health and safety issues in deciding whether to hire an applicant or to retain an employee with a disability? Yes. The ADA permits an employer to require that an individual not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the individual to other employees, or to the public.

    A direct threat means a significant risk of substantial harm.

    When can an employer require a medical examination? The ADA prohibits medical examinations before a job offer was made. After a job has been offered and prior to the start of employment, a medical examination may be required and the job offer may be conditioned on the exam results. An examination must be required of every applicant in the same job category.

    If the employment offer is withdrawn due to medical findings, the employer must be able to show the rejection was job related and a business necessity and that there was no reasonable accommodation that would enable the individual to perform the job’s essential functions.

    Under the ADA, employers generally may not require medical examinations of employees except under the following circumstances:

    • to determine if the employee can do the essential functions of the job following a leave for illness or injury or if the employee’s fitness for duty is in question;
    • after an employee requests an accommodation, to determine if the employee has a disability covered by the ADA and what reasonable accommodations may be required;
    • if required for employer-provided health or life insurance or for voluntary participation in an employer-sponsored health program; and
    • if required by some federal law or regulation.