THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT:
YOUR EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS AS AN INDIVIDUAL WITH A DISABILITY
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (1991)
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful to
discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a
disability. The ADA also outlaws discrimination against individuals with
disabilities in state and local government services, public
accommodations, transportation and telecommunications. This file explains
the part of the ADA that prohibits job discrimination. This part of the
law is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
and state and local civil rights enforcement agencies that work with the
WHAT EMPLOYERS ARE COVERED BY THE ADA?
Job discrimination against people with disabilities is illegal if
state and local governments,
and labor-management committees.
The part of the ADA enforced by the EEOC outlaws job discrimination by:
all employers, including state and local government employers, with 25 or
more employees after July 26, 1992, and all employers, including state and
local government employers, with 15 or more employees after July 26,
Another part of the ADA, enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice
(DOJ), prohibits discrimination in state and local government programs and
activities, including job discrimination by all state and local
governments, regardless of the number of employees, after January 26, 1992.
Because the ADA gives responsibilities to both EEOC and DOJ for
employment by state and local governments, these agencies will coordinate
the federal enforcement effort. In addition, since some private and
governmental employers are already covered by nondiscrimination and
affirmative action requirements under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
EEOC, DOJ, and the Department of Labor also will coordinate the
enforcement effort under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.
ARE YOU PROTECTED BY THE ADA?
If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, the ADA protects
you from job discrimination on the basis of your disability. Under the
ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment
that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects
you if you have a history of such a disability, or if an employer believes
that you have such a disability, even if you don't.
To be protected under the ADA, you must have, have a record of, or be
regarded as having a substantial, as opposed to a minor, impairment. A
substantial impairment is one that significantly limits or restricts a
major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing,
performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning or working.
If you have a disability, you must also be qualified to perform the
essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable
accommodation, in order to be protected from job discrimination by the
ADA. This means two things. First, you must satisfy the employer's
requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills
or licenses. Second, you must be able to perform the essential functions
of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions
are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your
own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot
refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing
duties that are not essential to the job.
WHAT IS REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION?
Reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work
environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a
disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the
essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of
employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. For
example, reasonable accommodation may include:
providing or modifying equipment or devices, job restructuring, part-time
or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, adjusting
or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, providing
readers and interpreters, and making the workplace readily accessible to
and usable by people with disabilities.
An employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a
qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless the employer can
show that the accommodation would be an undue hardship -- that is, that it
would require significant difficulty or expense.
WHAT EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES ARE COVERED?
The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate in all employment practices
job assignments promotions
lay off leave
all other employment related activities.
It is also unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you for
asserting your rights under the ADA. The Act also protects you if
you are a victim of discrimination because of your family, business,
social or other relationship or association with an individual with a
CAN AN EMPLOYER REQUIRE MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS OR ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT A
If you are applying for a job, an employer cannot ask you if you are
disabled or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. An
employer can ask if you can perform the duties of the job with or without
reasonable accommodation. An employer can also ask you to describe or to
demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodation, you will
perform the duties of the job.
An employer cannot require you to take a medical examination before you
are offered a job. Following a job offer, an employer can condition the
offer on your passing a required medical examination, but only if all
entering employees for that job category have to take the examination.
However, an employer cannot reject you because of information about your
disability revealed by the medical examination, unless the reasons for
rejection are job-related and necessary for the conduct of the employer's
business. Nor can the employer refuse to hire you because of your
disability if you can perform the essential functions of the job with an
Once you have been hired and started work, your employer cannot require
that you take a medical examination or ask questions about your disability
unless they are related to your job and necessary for the conduct of your
employer's business. Your employer may conduct voluntary medical
examinations that are part of an employee health program, and may provide
medical information required by state workers' compensation laws to the
agencies that administer such laws.
The results of all medical examinations must be kept confidential, and
maintained in separate medical files.
DO INDIVIDUALS WHO USE DRUGS ILLEGALLY HAVE RIGHTS UNDER THE ADA?
Anyone who is currently using drugs illegally is not protected by the ADA
and may be denied employment or fired on the basis of such use. The ADA
does not prevent employers from testing applicants or employees for
current illegal drug use.
WHAT DO I DO IF I THINK THAT I'M BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST?
If you think you have been discriminated against in employment on the
basis of disability after July 26, 1992, you should contact the EEOC. A
charge of discrimination generally must be filed within 180 days of the
alleged discrimination. You may have up to 300 days to file a charge if
there is a state or local law that provides relief for discrimination on
the basis of disability. However, to protect your rights, it is best to
contact EEOC promptly if discrimination is suspected.
You may file a charge of discrimination on the basis of disability by
contacting any EEOC field office, located in cities throughout the United
States. If you have been discriminated against, you are entitled to a
remedy that will place you in the position you would have been in if the
discrimination had never occurred. You may be entitled to hiring,
promotion, reinstatement, back pay, or reasonable accommodation, including
reassignment. You may also be entitled to attorney's fees.
While the EEOC can only process ADA charges based on actions occurring on
or after July 26, 1992, you may already be protected by state or local
laws or by other current federal laws. EEOC field offices can refer you
to the agencies that enforce those laws.
To contact the EEOC, look in your telephone directory under U.S.
Government. For information and instructions on reaching your local
office, call: (202) 663-4900 (Voice) (800) 800-3302 (TDD)
(In the 202 Area Code, call 202-663-4494 (TDD).)
CAN I GET ADDITIONAL ADA INFORMATION AND ASSISTANCE?
The EEOC will conduct an active technical assistance program to promote
voluntary compliance with the ADA. This program will be designed to help
people with disabilities understand their rights and to help employers
understand their responsibilities under the law.
In January 1992, EEOC will publish a Technical Assistance Manual,
providing practical application of legal requirements to specific
employment activities, with a directory of resources to aid compliance.
EEOC will publish other educational materials, provide training on the law
for people with disabilities and for employers, and participate in
meetings and training programs of other organizations. EEOC staff also
will respond to individual requests for information and assistance. The
Commission's technical assistance program will be separate and distinct
from its enforcement responsibilities. Employers who seek information or
assistance from the Commission will not be subject to any enforcement
action because of such inquiries.
The Commission also recognizes that differences and disputes about ADA
requirements may arise between employers and people with disabilities as a
result of misunderstandings. Such disputes frequently can be resolved
more effectively through informal negotiation or mediation procedures,
rather than through the formal enforcement process of the ADA.
Accordingly, EEOC will encourage efforts of employers and individuals with
disabilities to settle such differences through alternative methods of
dispute resolution, providing that such efforts do not deprive any
individual of legal rights provided by the statute.
MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE ADA
Q. Is an employer required to provide reasonable accommodation when I
apply for a job?
A. Yes. Applicants, as well as employees, are entitled to reasonable
accommodation. For example, an employer may be required to provide a sign
language interpreter during a job interview for an applicant who is deaf
or hearing impaired, unless to do so would impose an undue hardship.
Q. Should I tell my employer that I have a disability?
A. If you think you will need a reasonable accommodation in order to
participate in the application process or to perform essential job
functions, you should inform the employer that an accommodation will be
needed. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation only
for the physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a
disability of which they are aware. Generally, it is the responsibility
of the employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.
Q. Do I have to pay for a needed reasonable accommodation?
A. No. The ADA requires that the employer provide the accommodation
unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the
employer's business. If the cost of providing the needed accommodation
would be an undue hardship, the employee must be given the choice of
providing the accommodation or paying for the portion of the accommodation
that causes the undue hardship.
Q. Can an employer lower my salary or pay me less than other employees
doing the same job because I need a reasonable accommodation?
A. No. An employer cannot make up the cost of providing a reasonable
accommodation by lowering your salary or paying you less than other
employees in similar positions.
Q. Does an employer have to make non-work areas used by employees, such
as cafeterias, lounges, or employer-provided transportation accessible to
people with disabilities?
A. Yes. The requirement to provide reasonable accommodation covers all
services, programs, and non-work facilities provided by the employer. If
making an existing facility accessible would be an undue hardship, the
employer must provide a comparable facility that will enable a person with
a disability to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment similar to
those enjoyed by other employees, unless to do so would be an undue
Q. If an employer has several qualified applicants for a job, is the
employer required to select a qualified applicant with a disability over
other applicants without a disability?
A. No. The ADA does not require that an employer hire an applicant with
a disability over other applicants because the person has a disability.
The ADA only prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It
makes it unlawful to refuse to hire a qualified applicant with a
disability because he is disabled or because a reasonable accommodation is
required to make it possible for this person to perform essential job
Q. Can an employer refuse to hire me because he believes that it would
be unsafe, because of my disability, for me to work with certain machinery
required to perform the essential functions of the job?
A. The ADA permits an employer to refuse to hire an individual if she
poses a direct threat to the health or safety of herself or others. A
direct threat means a significant risk of substantial harm. The
determination that there is a direct threat must be based on objective,
factual evidence regarding an individual's present ability to perform
essential functions of a job. An employer cannot refuse to hire you
because of a slightly increased risk or because of fears that there might
be a significant risk sometime in the future. The employer must also
consider whether a risk can be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable
level with a reasonable accommodation.
Q. Can an employer offer a health insurance policy that excludes
coverage for pre-existing conditions?
A. Yes. The ADA does not affect pre-existing condition clauses
contained in health insurance policies even though such clauses may
adversely affect employees with disabilities more than other employees.
Q. If the health insurance offered by my employer does not cover all of
the medical expenses related to my disability, does the company have to
obtain additional coverage for me?
A. No. The ADA only requires that an employer provide employees with
disabilities equal access to whatever health insurance coverage is offered
to other employees.
Q. I think I was discriminated against because my wife is disabled. Can
I file a charge with the EEOC?
A. Yes. The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against an
individual, whether disabled or not, because of a relationship or
association with an individual with a known disability.
Q. Are people with AIDS covered by the ADA?
A. Yes. The legislative history indicates that Congress intended the
ADA to protect persons with AIDS and HIV disease from discrimination.
For more specific information about ada requirements affecting employment
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20507
(202) 663-4900 (Voice) (800) 800-3302 (TDD)
(202) 663-4494 (TDD for 202 Area Code)
For more specific information about ADA requirements affecting public
accommodations and state and local government services contact:
Department of Justice
Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act
Civil Rights Division
P.O. Box 66118
Washington, DC 20035-6118
(202) 514-0301 (Voice) (202) 514-0381 (TDD)
(202) 514-6193 (Electronic Bulletin Board)
For more specific information about requirements for accessible design in
new construction and alterations contact:
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1111 18th Street, NW Suite 501
Washington, DC 20036
800-USA-ABLE 800-USA-ABLE (TDD)
For more specific information about ADA requirements affecting
Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590
(202) 366-9305 (202) 755-7687 (TDD)
For more specific information about ADA requirements for
Federal Communications Commission
1919 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20554
(202) 632-7260 (202) 632-6999 (TDD)
For more information, contact the author:
EEOC's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (202) 663-4395 (voice),
(202) 663-4399 (TDD), or write them at 1801 L Street, N.W., Washington,
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