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Workers with disabilities: The employer's duty to accommodate

When Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, individuals with various health and ability challenges throughout the United States achieved a major victory. The ADA requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations so that individuals with disabilities could perform their job duties and work for them.

The ADA also protects individuals with disabilities from discriminatory firing, pay and employment practices. Employers, for example, cannot pay someone with a disability less than someone else who is performing the same job duties.

In creating this legislation, Congress did not clarify precisely what "reasonable accommodations" means in the context of hiring and offering employment. Numerous lawsuits have been filed by individuals with disabilities in their efforts to assert and more accurately define their employment rights. However, employers will not be required to take on "undue hardship" in making such accommodations to a person with a disability.

On a basic level, this is what the ADA is interpreted to mean by employment law lawyers and judges:

  • If an employee can still complete his or her job duties with accommodations that are not overly difficult for the employer to provide, the employer must provide such accommodations.
  • Employers cannot classify or discriminate against employees with a disability status.
  • Employers cannot protect themselves by hiring someone else to discriminate for them.
  • If an employee can perform a job with reasonable accommodation, the employer cannot discriminate against him or her during placement.

On the job discrimination against people with disabilities continues in spite of the ADA. However, those who suffer from this discrimination now have the legal right to make it stop and to pursue financial compensation for the injuries they have suffered as a result of it.

Source: Findlaw, "The Employer's Duty to Accommodate," accessed May 18, 2018

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