Disability in the workplace: Employer rights and responsibilities

Oct 17, 2014
Tagged with: Disability in the workplace: Employer rights and responsibilities

It is against the law to discriminate against people in the workplace simply because of their appearance, gender, or religion. Similarly, it is also illegal to discriminate against people who may have disabilities, whether they are already part of the workforce or an applicant for a vacant position. This does not only include obvious physical disabilities, such as if a person uses a wheelchair or has ambulatory issues, but also people with intellectual, sensory, and nuerological disabilities.

Making reasonable accommodation for a person with disabilities

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly states that employers must make ‘reasonable accommodation’ for a person with a disability, for example installing a ramp or widening doorways if the person in question requires wheelchair access, or the use of calculators or computers for an employee with dyslexia. It could also be less obvious, such as restructuring work hours or even a job-sharing position for a person with a chronic condition where stress is a serious health issue.

Undue hardship

If these adjustments to the workplace would cause significant expense or difficulties to a business, an employer is considered exempt. Here, both the type of adjustment and its cost are considered, as well as the employer’s financial resources and the nature of the business.

What is defined as a disability?

The ADA defines a disability as any impairment, physical or intellectual, which substantially limits a major life activity, which includes basic tasks such as reading, walking, and communicating as well as bodily functions such as respiratory functions and normal cell growth. Temporary ailments are not counted as disabilities by law.

Are smaller businesses covered by the act?

All private employers with 15 employees or more are obliged to follow the rules laid down in the ADA. In addition, many states have laws of their own, some of which may apply to businesses with a smaller workforce.

No positive discrimination

The ADA certainly doesn’t grant someone a job simply because of his or her disability. The act clearly states that an applicant must be qualified and competent for the position. No one is expecting a hospital to hire a doctor, with or without a disability , that doesn’t have the title ‘M.D.’ after his or her name.

The ADA and workplace drug testing

Employees, who work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, with or without a disability, are a serious risk both to themselves and those around them. The ADA protects recovering drug addicts and alcoholics from discrimination, which makes enforcing an effective drug-testing policy problematic. However, under the rules of the ADA, employers may test for ‘current’ illegal drug use, for example with oral fluid testing, but cannot discriminate against an employee who treats his or her disability with prescription drugs, provided they are able to perform the job effectively.

In order to stay within the law, employers must set clear drug testing policies. All job applicants and current employees should be notified when testing is required, how it will be conducted, and that all results will remain confidential.

Good and transparent communication between employers and employees on all matters should lead to a healthy and effective workplace, where workers with or without a disability can do their jobs without undue stress.

Are you receiving job accommodations? If yes, what has been the benefit?

Author: Luke Sprocket



  • bobl07

    With this being Disability employment month this information is right on. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities has always been around 70%. Any information provided to employers is needed to help chip away at this number.

  • windyh2o

    Resources we can place in the hands of business owners can be easily enhance the ability for a more diverse workforce. Great information Luke.