Reasonable Accommodation in the Work Place Under ADA

Julie Roberts
Comp 1113
Section 12-041
Instructor Joy Cleaver
December 2, 1996

There may be as many as one thousand different disabilities that affect
over forty-three million Americans. Of all the laws and regulations governing
the treatment of those Americans the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the
most recent major law. It was passed in 1990 and although it is spelled out in
a technical ADA manual that is several hundred pages in length. Two of ADA\'s
two major sections, Titles II and III concern the operation of state and local
government and places of public accommodation. They require new public and
commercial facilities to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Modifications to existing facilities need to be made only if the cost is
"readily achievable" and does not cause an undue financial or administrative
burden. This essay will concentrate on Title I, the employment aspects of the
law. This section forbids employment discrimination against people with
disabilities who are able to perform the essential functions of the job with or
without reasonable accommodation.
This definition poses three main questions: Who is considered disabled?
What is an essential function of a job? What is considered Reasonable
To be protected under the ADA an individual must have a physical or
mental impairment that substantially affects one or more major life activities.
The impairment may not be due to environmental, cultural, or economic
disadvantages. For example a person who cannot read because they have dyslexia
is considered disabled but a person who cannot read because they dropped out of
school is not. In addition persons who are perceived to be disabled are
protected by ADA. For example, if a person were to suffer a heart attack, when
he tries to return to work the boss might be scared the workload will be too
much and refuse to let him come back. The employer would be in violation of the
ADA because he perceives the employee as disabled and is discriminating based on
that perception. Two classes that are explicitly excluded from protection under
ADA are those individuals whose current use of alcohol or illegal drug is
affecting their job performance. However those who are recovering from their
former use of either alcohol or drugs are covered.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency
responsible for enforcing the ADA and other EEO laws that apply to most public
and private employers, separates job duties into two categories: essential and
marginal. Essential functions are those duties that each person in a certain
position must do or must be able to do to be an effective employee. Marginal
functions are duties that are required of only some employees or are not
critical to job performance. The ADA requires that employers make decisions
about applicants with disabilities solely on the basis of
their ability to perform essential job functions.
Reasonable accommodations are the actions taken to accommodate the known
disabilities of applicants or employees so that disabled persons can enjoy equal
employment opportunities. Since it is not generally acceptable for a potential
employer to ask about a disability or conduct test such as HIV test to look for
disabilities, it is the responsibility of the applicant or employee to inform
the employer of the disability and needed accommodation. At that point the
employer must make "reasonable accommodation for the known disability. An
employer may not deny employment in order to avoid providing the reasonable
accommodation unless it would cause an undue hardship. Even then the applicant
or employee should be given the option of providing accommodation himself.
The employment provisions began to be enforced for business with 25 or more
employees on July 26, 1992. This affected approximately 264,000 employers. The
second phase of the employment provision went into affect July 26, 1994, and was
implemented for the approximately 666,000 U.S. employers with 15 or more
Many opponents of the ADA suggested that the law would cost small
businesses too much. They contended that the legislation would backlog the
courts with lawsuits from scorned job applicants. However this has not been the
case. Over eighty percent of the discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC
have been entered by current employees who claim a prior disability or recently
disabled workers who contend that their employers have not reasonably
accommodated their needs under the law. According to EEOC records the most
common type of disabilities suffered by workers who claim employment
discrimination is back problems, which account for about eighteen percent of
complaints. Mental illness has the next largest portion of complaints, making
up about ten percent.