Tuesday, April 04, 2006.
Applying for a job is a challenging experience for most people. Now add disability to the mix. The Americans with Disabilities Act, however, tries to level the playing field.
To be covered by the ADA, an applicant with a disability must otherwise meet the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, training, prior employment experience and the like. The applicant must also be able to perform the "essential functions" of the job either on his own or with a reasonable accommodation. But only if that accommodation does not cause the employer an "undue hardship," such as a significant difficulty or expense.
An employer cannot refuse to consider an applicant with a disability simply because that person requires a reasonable accommodation to compete for or perform the job. Some examples of reasonable accommodations related to the hiring process may include providing: written materials in an accessible format, such as large print or Braille or audiotape; sign language interpreters or readers; or modified equipment or devices.
As a practical matter, it is wise for the applicant to request an accommodation for the hiring process as soon as the need becomes evident. That request can be made orally or in writing. At that point, the employer may inquire about the disability, but only to the extent of understanding the nature of the disability and how best to provide that accommodation. Further inquiry by an employer is permitted, but only to the same extent as would be inquired of any other applicants without a disability.
Generally, an employer cannot withdraw a job offer if a disability is revealed as a result of a post-offer medical examination. Withdrawal of an offer must be supported by a showing of the candidate's inability to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without an accommodation. Withdrawal of an offer can also be made if the applicant would pose a significant risk of causing substantial harm to himself or others.
The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and to all state and local government employers.
For more information, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published a fact sheet in the form of questions and answers. It can be accessed online at www.eeoc.gov/facts/jobapplicant.html. That publication deals more fully with how the ADA protects job applicants with disabilities.
Allan Appel writes a biweekly column about disabilities. He can be reached c/o Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, 1939 S. Federal Highway, P.O. Box 9009, Stuart, FL 34994, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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