By: Joshua C. Black, Esq.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.)
Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of life including jobs, schools, and transportation. The ADA also applies to public and private places that are open to the community like businesses, stores, hotels and restaurants, as well as access to state and local government programs and services.
The purpose of the law is to ensure people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Without the ADA, there would be no recognition of disability rights in the workplace in Arizona.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 61 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability. In the workplace, disabilities can come in many forms and may not always include outwardly obvious physical impairment.
There are many hurdles disabled employees could encounter in the workplace including being deprived of small alterations to their job duties that would put them on an even playing field with coworkers. The ADA protects Arizona employees from an unsafe work environment and ensures they have the opportunity to go to doctor’s appointments or physical therapy. It also protects employees from being denied sick time and supports employees needs for “reasonable accommodations.”
Under the ADA, employers with 15 or more employees are required to make reasonable accommodations for qualified people who have physical or mental limitations. Reasonable accommodations may include changing job tasks, providing reserved parking and improved accessibility in work areas, and/or offering or adjusting a product, equipment or software program to increase accessibility for all employees.
Typical Arizona ADA cases come in two forms. They include situations where an employee is not hired or promoted, or is fired for being disabled. They also include "failure to accommodate" cases, where an employer fails to engage in an interactive process with the employee to help them do their job successfully, with or without accommodations. Examples of this include things like someone with a bad back requesting a standing desk or an ergonomic chair so they can do their job like their non-disabled colleagues.
If an employee feels their needs aren’t being met at work, they should keep a detailed log of all of the times they’ve spoken up to a supervisor about concerns and how the company responded. Providing proof that the company is aware of the employee’s issues and that as a business they are refusing to engage in an interactive and productive dialogue to determine a solution, is essential for building a discrimination case.
In many ways the ADA has transformed society and enabled a generation of Americans with disabilities to thrive. However, even after 30 years, there is still work to be done to hold employers accountable and guarantee they are living up to the requirements established with the ADA.