by Catherine Palmiere
The Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, is a set of Federal laws designed to protect disabled Americans from discrimination or restricted access to opportunity. In addition to the ADA, each state has a similar set of laws that serve the same purpose– that of providing the disabled with equal access to public services, stores, businesses, and the ability to work without impediment.
In 2009 the ADA was amended to ADAA to broaden the definition of disability. A disability that interfered with “major life activities” was redefined to include an exhaustive list of activities such as walking, standing, lifting, eating, bending, reading, writing, and sleeping, among several others, including critical functions of the body.
Abuse of the ADA
Unfortunately, no law is perfect, and while the ADA provides vital protections for the disables, some of the finer points of the law expose employers and business owners to the possibility of illegitimate lawsuits and difficult dilemmas. Two of the most common challenges to employers result from workplace access issues and legal protections for employees with mental health problems.
In accordance with Federal and most state laws, disabled employees must be provided with all the resources they need to complete their jobs. All employees deserve reasonable accommodations, including wheelchair ramps and other structural requirements. This means employers and public businesses are subject to lawsuits when these requirements are not met, and this occasionally leads to abuse of the system. To protect your company from frivolous legal action or expensive settlements, take all reasonable steps to ensure that your workplace adequately accommodates the needs of disabled employees. But know your rights, and investigate the law. Understand what protections are available to companies who find themselves facing ADA abuses.
Mental Health Concerns
Employers often turn to me with questions about preventing workplace violence, since many efforts toward violence prevention appear to discriminate against those with mental illness and run counter to the protections of the ADA.
HR professionals need to establish protocols to deal with aggression, threats, and antisocial behavior in the workplace, and these protocols cannot violate the Federal rights of the ill or disabled. This places employers in a challenging position. But there are ways to sidestep these issues, including careful, effective screening during the hiring process. Employers should also have zero-tolerance violence policies clearly in place, and should make counseling, stress management and employee assistance programs available to all staff members.