Applying for Jobs Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant with a disability. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, labor unions, and state and local governments.

In addition, some state laws require reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. Check your state labor department's website for information on regulations in your location.

The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record or history of a substantially limiting impairment, or (3) is regarded or perceived by an employer as having a substantially limiting impairment.

Applicant Qualifications

An applicant with a disability, like all other applicants, must be able to meet the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, training, employment experience, skills, or licenses. In addition, an applicant with a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of the job on their own or with the help of reasonable accommodation.

However, an employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that will cause undue hardship, which is significant difficulty or expense.

Reasonable Accommodations

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to enable you to be considered for a job opening. Reasonable accommodation may also be required to enable you to perform a job, gain access to the workplace, and enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment available to employees without disabilities.

An employer cannot refuse to consider you because you require a reasonable accommodation to compete for or perform a job.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, examples of reasonable accommodation 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
  • making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities

The employer must make all areas of the workplace that are used by employees accessible, not just the part of the workplace the person with a disability will be working in. That includes places like the cafeteria and a location where employer-provided transportation is available.

It is best to let an employer know as soon as you realize that you will need a reasonable accommodation for some aspect of the hiring process. An employer may need advance notice to provide certain accommodations, such as a sign language interpreter, an alternative format for written documents, or a wheelchair-accessible location for a test or interview.

Prohibited Questions and Medical Exams

The ADA prohibits employers from asking questions orally or in writing that are likely to reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer (i.e., the pre-offer period). They are also prohibited from requiring a medical examination that might reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer.

Such questions and medical examinations are permitted after extending a job offer and before the individual begins work (i.e., the post-offer period). However, the medical exam must be required of all individuals in the same job category, and an employer is not permitted to reject a candidate because of a disability that was revealed by the medical exam unless the disability would prevent the candidate from performing necessary functions of the job.

Examples of prohibited questions during the pre-offer period include:

  • Do you have a heart condition? Do you have asthma or any other difficulties breathing?
  • Do you have a disability that would interfere with your ability to perform the job?
  • How many days were you sick last year?
  • Have you ever filed for workers' compensation? Have you ever been injured on the job?
  • Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?
  • What prescription drugs are you currently taking?

Hiring Decisions

An employer is not required to hire you if they determine you are unable to perform all of the essential functions of the job, even with reasonable accommodation. However, an employer can not reject you only because the disability prevents you from performing minor duties that are not essential to the job.

If an employer has several qualified candidates, they are not required to choose the candidate with a disability. If a person with a disability is hired, the employer may not pay them less to offset the cost of the reasonable accommodation that enabled them to do the job.