The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted in 1990 for the purpose of protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination in all areas of life, including employment.  

What does that mean for you as an employer? 

If you are an employer with 15 or more employees, you must comply with the ADA by providing the same or equal employment opportunities and benefits to an individual with a disability as you would a person with no disability – with or without a reasonable accommodation.  This practice must apply to both the hiring process and the firing process.  In other words, you are prohibited from overlooking an applicant simply because of a disability and you are prohibited from terminating an employee solely due to a disability – as long as they are able to perform the essential duties of their job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

What is a reasonable accommodation?    

A reasonable accommodation is any sort of tool or other assistance that can be put into place to enable a disabled individual to perform a particular job.  For example, if a qualified individual requires a wheelchair, the employer must provide a work area that would accommodate a wheelchair, such as lower desk, ramps and wider doorways.  In some cases, a reasonable accommodation can be quite expensive to certain employers.  Thus, an accommodation is considered reasonable if it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. 

What is an undue hardship?

An undue hardship is gauged by an individualized assessment of particular circumstances of the specific reasonable accommodation requested and the difficulty or expense of the employer to provide that accommodation. The employer must be able to support any undue hardship with sufficient proof and not generalized conclusions.  Courts will look at several factors to determine an actual undue hardship, including:

    • nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
    • the finances available to realize the reasonable accommodation; the number of employees; and the effect on expenses and resources; 
    • the type of operation of the employer, including the structure and functions of the workforce,
    • the impact of the accommodation on the employer. 

Let us take an example of a deaf individual who requests an interpreter 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and such would enable the individual to perform their job.  While this may seem extreme and expensive, it may be considered a reasonable accommodation for some employers and not others.  In other words, such would depend on the factors mentioned above.  A large multi-billion dollar company may easily be able to afford such an accommodation, making it quite reasonable, while a small company might find it to be unreasonable.  This is why general assertions by an employer related to an alleged “undue hardship” usually do not suffice and, thus, could result in the filing of a discrimination lawsuit by the employee (or applicant). An analysis should be specific to the situation.

 It is best to seek advice before making any decision that could negatively impact your business with an ADA claim by an applicant or employee. If you are an employer with an ADA question, the Chapar Firm is a top choice in metro-Atlanta to contact for guidance related to the ADA.  With over 30 years of experience with employment law, the Chapar Firm has represented employers and others against such claims, in addition to other alleged violations of equal rights, such as equal pay, Title VII and Age Discrimination.