The right to employment without being discriminated against because of a disability is protected by federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in employment against a qualified individual with a disability.
All employees need access to both the physical locations and digital resources required to do their jobs. Some employees with disabilities will require or benefit from reasonable accommodations. To stay in compliance, covered employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. Failure to comply may constitute discrimination.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for businesses with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a qualified individual in all aspects of employment. This part of the ADA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The ADA prohibits the same for state and local government employers, as does the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for federal and some private employers.
The ADA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment. §12112. Discrimination explains that:
No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability 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.
For information on acceptable questions before an offer of employment has been made, read Questions Employers Can and Can’t Ask Job Applicants.
Covered employers have to make reasonable accommodations that would help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform a job, or enjoy the benefits of a job.
A reasonable accommodation is any change to the environment or practices that improves access or helps applicants or employees pursue and perform employment. Reasonable accommodations will vary significantly from individual to individual and might include changes like making modifications for improved wheelchair access, providing a sign language interpreter, or allowing remote working arrangements.
The ADA defines a “reasonable accommodation” to include:
Employers may not have to agree to all accommodation requests if doing so would cause an undue hardship.
“Generalized conclusions will not suffice to support a claim of undue hardship,” which instead “must be based on an individualized assessment of current circumstances that show that a specific reasonable accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense,” according to EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA.
To determine if an accommodation would impose undue hardship, EEOC states:
The ADA's legislative history indicates that Congress wanted employers to consider all possible sources of outside funding when assessing whether a particular accommodation would be too costly. Undue hardship is determined based on the net cost to the employer. Thus, an employer should determine whether funding is available from an outside source, such as a state rehabilitation agency, to pay for all or part of the accommodation. In addition, the employer should determine whether it is eligible for certain tax credits or deductions to offset the cost of the accommodation. Also, to the extent that a portion of the cost of an accommodation causes undue hardship, the employer should ask the individual with a disability if s/he will pay the difference.
Further, if an accommodation request is determined to be too costly, but another accommodation is agreed to be effective and won’t cause undue hardship, then the employer should provide that second option.
Accessibility in the workplace is not limited to the physical location. If employees use digital technology to do their job, access benefits, or to participate in any part of employment, those technologies and materials must be accessible.
Learn about digital accessibility
Sometimes it is can be challenging to separate the myths from the facts. The Department of Justice (DOJ) identifies ten concerns employers might have in their Video: Ten Employment Myths. The myths are copied here for ease of reference; their rebuttals are available in the video.
If you are qualified to do a job, it’s illegal for you to be discriminated against because of your disability. For information on your employment rights, start with Your Employment Rights as an Individual with a Disability (EEOC).
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