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Americans with Disabilities Act - Focus on Employment

Title I of the ADA governs employment issues. It states:

No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures; the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees; employee compensation; job training; and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

Major Employment Provisions

  • The ADA requires equal opportunity in the selection, testing, and hiring of qualified applicants with disabilities.
  • The ADA prohibits discrimination against workers with disabilities. Covered entities are all employers with 15 or more employees.
  • The ADA employment provisions apply to private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees.
  • The ADA requires equal treatment in promotion and benefits.
  • The ADA requires reasonable accommodation for applicants and workers with disabilities when such accommodations would not impose undue hardship. Reasonable accommodation is a concept already familiar to and widely used in todays workplace.
  • Employers may require that an individual not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the individual or others.
  • Employers may not make pre-employment inquiries about an applicants disability or conduct pre-employment medical tests. Employers may ask if applicants can perform specific job functions and may condition a job offer on results of a medical exam, but only if the exam is required for all entering employees in similar jobs.
  • Drug testing is not considered to be a medical exam, and can be required as part of the application process. Employers may conduct tests for the illegal use of drugs and may prohibit illegal use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

Some Key Definitions

The term disability means:

  • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities, for example, walking, seeing, speaking or hearing;
  • a record of such an impairment, for example, a person who has recovered from cancer;
  • being regarded as having such an impairment even when no limitations exist, for example, a person who is scarred from burns.

The term qualified individual with a disability means an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.

Reasonable accommodation may include:

  • making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
  • job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
  • acquisition or modification of equipment or devices;
  • appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies;
  • the provision of qualified readers or interpreters;
  • other similar accommodations.

See section 6, Job Accommodation, for more information

The term undue hardship means that an action requires significant difficulty or expense. Factors to be considered in determining whether an accommodation would cause an undue hardship include:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation
  • the resources and size of the business as a whole and of the facility making the accommodation
  • the type of business operation, including the composition, functions, and structure of the workforce
  • the impact that the accommodation would have on the facility making it and on the business as a whole.

In general, a larger employer will be expected to make accommodations requiring greater effort or expense than a smaller employer.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Federal agency that regulates and enforces other employment discrimination laws, is responsible for enforcing ADA employment provisions.

Important Note

Impact of State and Local Laws and Regulations Concerning Nondiscrimination

This section contains information only on federal laws and regulations. Federal requirements are the baseline standards for nondiscrimination and equal opportunity. State and local laws and regulations may have additional requirements that employers must comply with.