Friday, May 18, 2007

Employment and the ADA

One of the speakers at the Coalition For Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois (CCDI ) conference was Howard Rosenblum, senior attorney for the Illinois advocacy organization Equip for Equality. Mr. Rosenblum gave a very informative presentation about the Americans with Disabilities Act as it pertains to employment.

Mr. Rosenblum explained the difference between essential functions of a job and non-essential functions of a job. He gave the example of an accounting job. Essential functions would include bookkeeping, skills with numbers, and the appropriate certification or education. Non-essential functions might include telephone communication and reading.

It is illegal for an employer to ask if a job applicant has a disability. The key point in determining suitability for a job is whether or not the applicant is capable of performing the essential functions of the job. A permissible question an employer can ask is, "Are you able to do the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation?" Mr. Rosenblum said that, whether or not one has a disability, one can answer yes to this question. It is absolutely unnecessary to indicate "with" or "without", and it is illegal for the interviewer to ask any further questions about the existence of a medical condition or disability.

Mr. Rosenblum said that it's a tricky issue whether or not one should tell the interviewer that you have a visible disability before meeting in person. Sometimes if the interviewer knows ahead of time, he or she has time to worry. On the other hand, if the interviewer is surprised by a visible disability, he or she may be so distracted as to be unable to do an effective interview. While it is legal to ask for accommodations such as a sign language interpreter or a scribe for the job interview, Mr. Rosenblum recommended that when possible, the applicant supply his or her own accommodations for the interview. It is also legal to ask for alternative formats in a job interview.

Not being able to do the non-essential functions of a job is not a legal reason to be refused a job.

Reasonable accommodations must be provided to allow an employee to perform the essential functions of a job. An employer is not expected to make an accommodation that results in lower attendance or output requirements for the employee, is a safety hazard, or causes an undue hardship to the company. The employer is not expected to tolerate violent behaviors or provide personal care services for an employee.

Some examples of employment accommodations: restructuring of non-essential functions, modifying work schedules, and providing auxiliary aids and services.

Interesting statistics on reasonable accommodation costs versus benefits from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN):
20% of reasonable accommodations cost nothing.
Over 70% cost $500 or less.
The median cost is $250.
A company makes $35 for each $1 spent on reasonable accommodations. Some of the benefits include hiring and retaining a qualified employee, increased productivity, and decreased turnover costs.

Resources provided by Mr. Rosenblum:
Job Accommodation Network
Equip for Equality (Illinois advocacy agency, other states have their own agencies)
US Department of Justice ADA Home Page

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Very interesting statistics. I've read in other places that the cost of providing accommodations is much lower than employers fear - but these numbers are a very persuasive argument that making accommodations is not in and of itself an obstacle to employing pwd. Thanks David.