You hired a disabled veteran. You're giving extra time-off to an employee who needs chemotherapy. You feel you're doing everything you can to make "reasonable accommodations" for your employees protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws.
You may need to examine more than your hiring practices and benefits. Look at your everyday actions and the everyday actions of your managers and supervisors. Discrimination against the disabled can be subtle and unintentional.
Examples of subtle and unintentional actions which might illegally discriminate:
You may not think you're discriminating but under the ADA you could be. Familiarize yourself with these five areas where unintentional discrimination is likely to occur.
Note: When considering if an applicant or an employee is protected by the ADA, keep in mind how broadly the ADA defines disability and major life activity.
The ADA (as amended by the 2008 ADA Amendments Act) broadly defines disability to include – not just a current, obvious disability – but also an "impairment that is episodic or in remission... if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active." The term disability also extends to persons regarded as having such an impairment. An applicant or employee is regarded as having such an impairment if the "individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this Act [the ADA] because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity."
The amended ADA defines major life activities broadly to include such activities as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, learning, reading, reaching, interacting with others. Major life activities also include such major bodily functions as breathing, immune system function, digestive and bowel function, and bladder, musculoskeletal, and brain functions.
Examples of disabilities covered under the expanded disability and major life activities definitions include epilepsy, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, asthma, diabetes, major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and cancer.
ADA obligations apply to private employers with 15 or more employees. Covered employers need to train supervisors to broadly extend ADA protection to applicants and employees. Individuals must be evaluated according to their qualifications, not their disabilities.
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