Disability Rights in the Workplace: Protections Under Federal Law

October 3, 2022
Disability Rights in the Workplace: Protections Under Federal Law

October is #NationalDisabilityEmploymentAwarenessMonth or #ndeam. In recognition of this month, we will post a series of short articles to educate job applicants, employees, and employers about the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace. This first article focuses on protections under federal law.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provide federal civil rights protections for people with disabilities in employment. These two federal laws protect job applicants and employees from discrimination based on the person’s disability. Employers are required to follow these laws if they are large enough or receive federal financial assistance. A job applicant or employee is protected from discrimination under these laws if they are “a qualified person with a disability.”

Employers Required to Follow the ADA or Section 504

Public and private employers with 15 or more employees for 20 or more calendar weeks per year must adhere to Title I of the ADA. Employers who receive federal financial assistance (e.g. a loan or grant) no matter their size, must adhere to Section 504. For example, a college which accepts federal student loans must follow Section 504.

An employer who is required to follow the ADA or Section 504 must not discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the application process, hiring, firing, pay, promotions or treatment in the workplace. Later articles will discuss these specific rights. Even if not covered under the ADA or Section 504, small employers may still be subject to a state anti-discrimination law.

Job Applicants and Employees Protected Under the ADA and Section 504

Job applicants and employees who are qualified for the position they hold or seek and who have a disability have protections under Title I of the ADA and Section 504. A disability under these laws means a person has either a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity, has a record of an impairment, or is seen as having an impairment. Major life activities include such things as seeing, hearing, bending, speaking, thinking, and other similar activities. Major life activities also include bodily functions such as the digestive, circulatory, neurological, and endocrine systems, as well as bladder, bowel, brain functions, among others. The ability of a person to limit the effect of symptoms through medication or treatment must not be considered when determining if a person has a disability under the ADA.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with investigating violations and issuing guidance on Title I of the ADA has additional information on specific disabilities.

If you are experiencing problems related to employment, the protection and advocacy network may be able to assist you. Find your P&A here https://www.ndrn.org/about/ndrn-member-agencies/



This article is for information purposes only, and is not intended to be legal advice for any claim. If you think you face discrimination, seek out competent legal advice.