FAQ: Employment/Title I

Question:

My employer recently sent a survey to all employees asking if they had a disability. I have a disability but it doesn’t affect my job. Do I have to answer the survey?

Answer:

No...

Under the ADA, the only time a person must disclose that he or she has a disability is when requesting a reasonable accommodation. Some employers are also required by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act to ask applicants and employees to identify if they have a disability.  This is not the same as requesting an accommodation. It is voluntary and is simply a way for the employer to document how closely it meets the goal of 7% disability representation within its workforce. Identification as having a disability does not begin the accommodations process; employees who identify as having a disability must still disclose through the company's accommodations process if a reasonable accommodation is being requested. In either case, disability information is to be kept confidential and separate from other employment records.  

Question:

Is there a difference between self-identifying as having a disability and disclosing a disability?

Answer:

Yes...

Although the terms are similar, they generally mean different things in the workplace. Self-identification is requested when an employer is collecting demographic data about its employees and is entirely voluntary. Meanwhile, disclosing a disability is done when an employee is requesting a reasonable accommodation and is required in order to start the accommodations process.

Question:

Our company is getting a new software system. An employee who is deaf has requested an interpreter for the training sessions. Do we have to provide one?

Answer:

In this instance, most likely yes. An employer needs to provide an effective reasonable accommodation that will allow an employee to perform their essential job functions as long as this does not impose an undue hardship. The level of complexity involved in this case would require an interpreter to facilitate communication to ensure the employee is fully capable of using the new system. In general, an interpreter would be appropriate for key workplace interactions such as trainings, staff meetings, or a performance review. In order to claim an undue hardship, an employer has to look at not only the cost, but consider its own size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.

Question:

Are all employees covered by the ADA?

Answer:

No. The ADA covers private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local government employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and labor-management committees. Federal employees’ rights are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Employees of private employers with less than 15 employees are often covered under state laws. For example, employers with 4 or more employees are subject to the New York State Human Rights Law which affords similar protections as the ADA.

Question:

Can my employer get medical information about my disability when I ask for an accommodation?

Answer:

The employer may (but is not required to) collect medical information to substantiate that the employee has a disability and to identify a reasonable accommodation.

Question:

I told my supervisor about my disability and she has told my coworkers about it. Don’t I have a right to privacy?

Answer:

Yes. Your disability disclosure should be kept confidential and should be treated as private information.

Question:

Do I have to ask for a reasonable accommodation in a certain way?

Answer:

Generally speaking, no. There is no specific criteria nor any particular words that an employee must use in asking for a reasonable accommodation. The employee simply needs to let the employer know that a change at work is needed due to a medical condition. Some businesses have a formalized accommodation request process. Check with your human resources contact person to find out what the process is.

Question:

Can an employer ask about my disability on a job application?

Answer:

No. The only disability related question an employer can ask is if an applicant is able to perform the essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation. Further, this is a “yes/no” question which should not be followed by additional questions on accommodation needs or other disability-related information. Employers cannot ask about a history of disability. They cannot ask what kinds of accommodations might be needed to perform a job as it could be another way of asking if an applicant had a disability. It is the applicant’s decision whether or not to disclose a disability.

Question:

What employers and employment practices are covered by the ADA?

Answer:

The title I employment provisions apply to private employers, State and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions. Employers with 15 or more employees are covered. The ADA prohibits discrimination in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It applies to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all other employment-related activities.