The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
By: Jeff Perry, Business Agent
A quick review and why it’s important to you.
The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George Bush. It was meant to allow those with a disability to have an equal opportunity to work and support them with the help of a reasonable accommodation(s). However, the courts didn’t read the law as it was intended.
Several Supreme Court cases put huge limitations on the ADA goals. In Sutton v. United Airlines, 527 U.S. 471 (1999), they ruled that an employee wasn’t disabled if their treatment limited or controlled their medical condition. Toyota Motor Mfg., Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002) changed the requirement from a limitation on one portion of the job to a number of functions normally required to live a normal life. This changed the requirement from proving a disability was present to proving your disability couldn’t be adequately treated so that you couldn’t perform normal tasks of regular living.
Hopefully nobody you know has a disability and this law will have no impact upon you directly, however; in this day and age, that would be fairly rare to be the case for long.
When an employee discovers they have some mental or physical problem they go to their doctor to try to get better and take off work with their sick leave if needed. However, when the problem is more chronic then the flu or a cold, employees typically would request Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time when they need time off work for treatment. Doing so would keep the Employer from using the time off as an excuse to discipline an employee for using too much sick leave.
Many employers require employees to use any earned time off prior to using unpaid FMLA time. Either way, FMLA is limited to twelve weeks a year. If an employee needs more time off, they may need to request a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. In addition, an employee may need a reasonable accommodation to work so they can avoid or minimize the time off work due to their disability.
If you have earned time you can use, few employers would have a problem with letting their employees use it due to their needs. However, a lot of employers do have a problem letting their employees have time off when they don’t have any time off. The way the law was interpreted by the Supreme Court left little chance of help to employees.
In 2009, President George W. Bush signed a law amending the ADA back to his father’s original intent. In doing so, the case law on the ADA no longer is relevant. Now there are three types of reasonable accommodation that would cause an Employer to change the work area or procedure.
(i) Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
(ii) Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or
(iii) Modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.
An accommodation is reasonable if it’s both “plausible and feasible.” The accomodation can include making areas accessible, modified work schedules, providing readers and interpreters and reassignment to a vacant position. Of course, the accommodation must be balanced against the hardship it would cause the employer.
Undue hardship refers not only to the financial difficulty, but to reasonable accommodations that are unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business.
Needless to say the ADA must be looked at on a case-by-case basis. It’s good to know that there are laws to protect you should the need arise. However, if you think you need such assistance you should contact your OPBA representative to help guild you.