What is Protected Under the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits disability discrimination in the workplace. It is a comprehensive law—providing much-needed legal protections to many workers who have a physical or mental impairment that requires accommodation. It is crucial that employees know their rights and options under the ADA. All covered employers have a legal obligation to comply with all aspects of the ADA. Our Chicago Americans with Disabilities Act attorneys provide an overview of what is protected under the ADA.

The ADA Protects People With Disabilities in the Workplace

The ADA is the primary law that protects the rights of disabled workers. The core purpose of the law is to help ensure that employees have fair and equitable opportunities to thrive in the workplace. More specifically, the ADA protects disabled workers by requiring covered employers to:

  • Give disabled job applicants and workers access to equitable employment opportunities
  • Refrain from unlawfully discriminating against workers due to disability status
  • Provide reasonable accommodations to disabled workers when warranted

The ADA Applies to Employers With 15 or More Workers

It is important to clarify that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to every employer in Illinois. The ADA applies to all businesses, non-profit organizations, government entities, and other employers with 15 or more total employees. Part-time workers must be counted when determining whether or not an employer is covered by the ADA.

How is a Disability Defined Under the ADA?

The ADA protects job applicants and employees that have qualifying disabilities. Do not assume that you are not protected by the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act has a relatively broad definition of the term “disability.” For the ADA, a disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities.” Some examples of disabling conditions that are protected by the ADA include:

  • Visual impairments (blindness)
  • Hearing impairments (deadness)
  • Mobility impairments, including wheelchair usage
  • Digestive system issues
  • Immune system issues
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Mental health issues, including anxiety and depression

The ADA Protects an Employee’s Right to Reasonable Accommodation

One of the key things to know about the ADA is that it protects a disabled employee’s right to request reasonable accommodation. As explained by the United States Department of Labor (DOL), a reasonable accommodation is a “modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process.” The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that employers make a good faith effort to provide disabled workers reasonable accommodations in three specific aspects of employment:

  • Ensuring equity and fairness in the application and hiring process
  • Allowing a qualified individual who can perform the essential functions of the job to take the position
  • Making it possible for a worker to enjoy equal benefits and privileges in employment

To be clear, the ADA does not guarantee a disabled employee the right to receive any specific accommodation. Instead, it requires covered employers to engage in a good faith and interactive bargaining process to provide a modification/adjustment to the job duties or work environment that help to ensure that a disabled employee who can perform the essential duties of the position can enjoy equitable employment opportunities.

What are Examples of a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?

Reasonable accommodations can come in a wide range of different forms. By definition, reasonable accommodation under the ADA should be customized to meet the unique needs of a disabled employee. Some examples of adjustments/modifications to job positions and the workplace environment that could be granted as a reasonable accommodation include:

  • Installing wheelchair ramps or other job site adjustments to improve access
  • Providing additional materials for a visual or hearing impairment
  • Granting an employee the additional option for telework
  • Allowing a worker a more flexible schedule
  • Offering additional leave for medical issues
  • Modification of job duties—such as removing a requirement for lifting heavy objects

The Denial of a Reasonable Accommodation Could Constitute Discrimination

A reasonable accommodation is not a “special privilege” or voluntary benefit offered by employers. Businesses and organizations that are covered by the ADA have a legal duty to make a good faith effort to find an accommodation that works for a disabled employee. The improper denial of reasonable accommodation could constitute disability discrimination under the ADA.

Employers are not required to provide any accommodation that would present an undue burden. In effect, the ADA requires a balancing test. A reasonable accommodation poses an undue burden if it is unreasonably costly or otherwise unreasonably difficult for the employer.

What to Do if Your Rights Were Violated Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

Do you believe that you or your family member had rights violated under the ADA? If so, you must take proactive steps to protect your interests. You have the right to bring a disability discrimination claim. According to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), approximately 22,000 disability discrimination claims are filed each year.

You do not have to navigate the ADA claims process alone. Whether you were overtly discriminated against based on protected disability status or you were denied a reasonable accommodation, a Chicago employment law attorney with experienced handled ADA claims can help you navigate the legal process and determine the best course of action.

Consult With a Chicago Americans With Disabilities Act Lawyer Today

At North Suburban Legal Services LLC, our Chicago ADA attorneys have the professional skills and legal expertise to protect the rights of employees. If your rights were violated under the ADA, we are here as a legal resource. Call us at (312) 909-6089 or send us a message to set up a fully confidential consultation. With law offices in Chicago and Schaumburg, our team handles disability discrimination cases throughout the region, including in Cook County, DuPage County, and Will County.




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