Answering common questions about your disability rights

By John Wylam, JD, Staff Attorney, Aimed Alliance

Answering Common Questions About Your Disability Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that protects workers living with a disability from discrimination in the workplace. Employers with 15 or more employees are required to make reasonable accommodations in order for you to perform your job. The ADA covers you with respect to hiring, awarding promotions, providing training, and other privileges associated with employment.

What is considered a disability?

The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including walking, eating, sitting, sleeping, reading, and communicating. Disability status under the ADA is determined on a case-by-case basis. One important difference to understand is that disability status under the ADA allows you protections so you can keep working. On the other hand, receiving disability benefits from Social Security is based on the fact that you are unable to work, even if accommodations have been made.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

Depending on the level and type of disability, oftentimes, there are alternative solutions that can be made to the way the job is performed, or the environment of your workplace, referred to as a “reasonable accommodation.” An accommodation will be considered reasonable if it does not create an undue hardship on the employer. Examples of reasonable accommodations can include:

  • Allowing the ability to work from home
  • Approving additional time off for doctors’ appointments
  • Creating a flexible work schedule
  • Changing lighting in the office
  • Providing an ergonomic workstation
  • Installing voice to text software
  • Relocating your work space
  • Providing consistent breaks
  • Requiring a fragrance-free environment

How do I request a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation can be requested during the application process, the hiring process, and anytime while you are employed. If there is a reasonable accommodation that could be made in order for you to perform your job, speak up! Talk to your supervisor or human resource department to inform them that adjustments to your job need to be made to address a medical condition. If you are uncomfortable disclosing your diagnosis to your employer, you may begin the conversation by only providing limited information about your condition. Some employers may be satisfied with this approach, but your employer has the right to request certain medical information to verify the need for any accommodation. It is recommended you also document the request in writing with specific details of the
changes you are proposing, although it is not a requirement to submit a formal letter.

Can my employer refuse my request?

There are limited circumstances where employers can refuse to grant accommodations. If the accommodation is unrelated to the employee’s disability or creates an undue hardship on the employer by requiring significant expenses, the employer will not be required to grant it. Employers will also not be required to eliminate an essential function of the job as an accommodation.

Can my employer take away my health benefits?

No. The ADA requires employers to offer the same health benefits to all employees, regardless of their disability status. However, this does not mean that your employer will be required to offer you a health insurance plan that includes benefits that would treat your disabling health condition.

Can I be fired after my employer learns of my disability?

No. The ADA protects you from being discriminated against or treated differently, or being fired because of a disability.

The following resources can help if your employer discriminates or fires you in regards to a medical condition:

Aimed Alliance
The Job Accommodation Network
ADA National Network
U.S. Deptartment of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Disability Discrimination

John A. Wylam serves as a staff attorney for Aimed Alliance. In this position, Mr. Wylam conducts legal research and analysis, provides strategic direction, and drafts issue briefs, op-eds, press releases, and newsletters. John also creates content for the Aimed Alliance website and assists the organization in developing policy positions and public statements on emerging issues.