Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

What Is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability. Discrimination means you are treated unfairly or unequally because you have a disability. Discrimination also occurs when you are denied a necessary reasonable accommodation.

How Does the ADA Define Disability?

The ADA uses the term “substantial impairment” to define which disabilities qualify for protection. To be protected under the law, you must have, have a record of, or be regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, and performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning, reading, eating, sleeping, lifting, bending, standing, thinking, communicating, concentrating, and working. Major life activities also include the operation of major bodily functions. That means you are covered under the ADA if you have a condition that affects any of the following:

  • The immune system
  • Special sense organs
  • The skin
  • Normal cell growth
  • Digestive, genitourinary, bowel, and bladder functions
  • Nervous system, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions
  • The kidneys and brain

Additionally, the ADA protects you in the following cases:

  • You have a history of a disability (such as cancer that is now in remission) or an employer believes you are disabled, even if you are not.
  • You have a relationship with a person who is disabled, even if you do not have a disability. For example, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because your spouse or child has a disability. Keep in mind, however, that this protection does not require an employer to supply you with a reasonable accommodation because your family member has a disability.

Does the ADA Apply to All Employers?

The ADA applies to all private employers with 15 or more employees, all state and local government employers (regardless of how many employees they have), unions, and employment agencies. The ADA does not apply to federal agencies. Instead, federal agencies have to follow the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is almost identical to the ADA. The ADA does not apply to employers owned and operated by Indian tribes, but tribal employers may be covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or by tribal laws similar to the ADA.

What Parts of Employment Does the ADA Cover?

The ADA covers all aspects of employment, including:

  • Hiring, firing, and pay
  • Job assignment, promotion, layoff, training, and fringe benefits (such as health care coverage, pension, or retirement contributions)
  • Any other term or condition of employment

The ADA also makes it illegal for a covered employer (an employer to whom the ADA applies) to ask disability-related questions before making a job offer. An employer may not withdraw the job offer when learning about a disability, unless the employer can show that the person can’t perform the essential functions of the job even with reasonable accommodations. After a person has been hired for a job, an employer may not ask disability related questions or require a medical examination unless it is related to the job and necessary for business.

It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate — take negative actions — against you for asserting your rights under the ADA or for using the EEOC or Arizona Civil Rights Division’s procedures to complain about discrimination. So you are protected when you do things like tell your employer you have a disability, request a reasonable accommodation, or file a complaint.

If you have a disability and are employed, or looking for a job, your right to ask for reasonable accommodations is one of the most important parts of the ADA. In addition to protecting people with disabilities from discrimination, the ADA also requires employers to supply you with reasonable accommodations to do your job, when you apply for a job, or when you participate in an employment benefit.

Examples of reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, making changes to building or equipment to make it more accessible and usable by people with disabilities, changing when or how a person performs an important job function, modifying a work schedule, buying equipment or devices, supplying training materials or policies in a different format, supplying sign language interpreters, offering leave to get treatment or recover from disability-related conditions, and other similar actions.

Employers are not required to supply reasonable accommodations that would result in an undue hardship to the employer’s operations. An undue burden means it would be very difficult or very expensive for the employer to accommodate you. If an accommodation is too difficult or too costly, your employer, or potential employer, should work with you to figure out if:

  • There is an accommodation that would work and that would not be an undue burden to the employer or potential employer
  • There are resources from other agencies that might help with the cost of the supplying the accommodation

To learn more about reasonable accommodations and how to request them, read the DB101 article on Job Supports and Accommodations.

How Am I Protected by the ADA?

If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, the ADA protects you from job discrimination. Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

If you have a disability, you will be protected by the ADA if you also are qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation. This means two things:

  1. You must meet the minimum requirements that the employer requires all job applicants to have, such as education, work experience, skills, or licenses.
  2. You must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job. At the same time, you cannot ask that an essential function be removed from your job description as a reasonable accommodation.

You work as a telephone marketer and it is an essential function that you need to be able to speak clearly. However, it is not an essential function that you need to be able to lift heavy objects. Your employer cannot fire you because you cannot lift heavy objects or require all employees to be able to lift a certain amount of weight.

Arizona Civil Rights Act (ACRA)

The Arizona Civil Rights Act (ACRA) is a state law that also prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities. The ACRA offers pretty much the same protections as the ADA.

Who Enforces the ADA and ACRA?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that enforces the ADA.The Arizona attorney general’s office has a Civil Rights Division (ACRD) that enforces the state employment discrimination law. Later in this article, we’ll talk more about what to do if you think your employer is not respecting your rights under the ADA and ACRA.

Where Can I Learn More About the ADA and ACRA?

The Arizona Center for Disability Law can help you understand your rights under federal and state discrimination law. It can help you understand if you are being treated unfairly because of your disability.

Learn more