Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) & Employment

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, and it provides civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities and guarantees equal opportunity for individuals in the areas of employment, state and local government services, public transportation, privately operated transportation available to the public, places of public accommodation and telephone services offered to the general public.

Which employers are covered by the ADA?

Employers who have at least fifteen (15) employees for a minimum of twenty (20) weeks out of the year are covered by the ADA, as are all governmental employers regardless of the number of employees in the office or unit

What rights exist under the ADA?

The ADA does not require employers to engage in "affirmative action" programs to hire persons with disabilities. It does prevent employers from engaging in discriminatory practices. Examples of prohibited practices are:

  • An employer may not ask whether an applicant has a disability before making a job offer. Employers can ask whether a job candidate can perform the essential job functions either with or without "reasonable accommodations."
  • An employer may not recruit in any way that discriminates against applicants with disabilities. For example, if an employer provides background information on the employer's business to applicants, that information must be available in alternative formats (i.e., braille) for applicants whose disability so requires.
  • An employer cannot fail to make "reasonable accommodations" to the known disability of an applicant or employee during the interview or on the job.
  • An employer may not offer different benefits to a prospective employee because of that person's disability. For instance, an employer who offers health coverage cannot require a larger co-payment from a disabled employee.
  • An employer may not require pre-employment medical examinations. An employer may require a medical examination after an offer of employment has been made if all entering employees are subject to such examination, regardless of disability.
Examples of Pre-employment Inquiries Related to Disabilities
Illegal Questions Legal Questions
  • Do you have any disabilities? Do you have a disability that would prevent you from performing the essential functions of the job with or without an accommodation?
  • Please complete the following medical history as part of the application process. Have you had any recent or past illness or operations? If yes, list and give dates. What was the date of your last physical exam? What medications do you take?
  • Are you able to sit?
  • Can you carry objects?
  • Are you colorblind?
  • What is your corrected vision? When did you lose your eyesight? How did you lose your eyesight?
  • Do you see a psychiatrist for stress?
  • Are you an alcoholic? How often do you drink alcoholic beverages?
  • What is wrong with your leg?
  • How often were you sick?
  • Why do you use a wheelchair and will we have to make any accommodations for the wheelchair?
  • Tell me all of your disabilities.
  • Are you able to perform the essential functions of the job?
  • As part of the hiring process, after a job offer has been made, you will be required to undergo a medical exam. The results will remain confidential and will only be used if emergency medical treatment is necessary or to assist in the determination of a job accommodation, if needed.
  • Can you sit for four hours at a time? (Assuming this is an essential function of the job.)
  • Can you carry three-pound boxes to the copier? (Assuming this is an essential function of the job)
  • Can you distinguish between color bands? (Assuming this is an essential function of the job.)
  • Do you have 20/20 vision? (If this is a job requirement.)
  • How well can you handle stress?
  • Do you drink alcoholic beverages?
  • How did you break your leg? (If it is obvious the person's leg is broken because the person is wearing a cast.)
  • What was your attendance record? Can you demonstrate how you would perform the following job functions?
  • Will you need any accommodation to participate in the recruiting process?
  • What are your job skills, educational background, and prior work experiences?

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.