ADA Continues to Make an Impact on Employers and Workers

With the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, employers continue to find new ways to accommodate workers with disabilities, allowing them to remain employed and to thrive.

Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities, according to the Department of Labor.

The ADA has forced employers “to remain forever cognizant of employees’ needs and accommodations,” Pittsburgh-based attorney Casey Kurtz, co-chair of the Leaves of Absence and Disability Accommodation Practice Group at Littler Mendelson, told Bloomberg BNA July 20.

The biggest impact of the ADA, Kurtz said, is making discrimination against individuals with disabilities illegal in many spheres of public life.

The ADA Amendments Act, which took effect in January 2009, was a “huge game changer” for employers, Terri Rhodes, chief executive officer of the Disability Management Employer Coalition, told Bloomberg BNA July 20. The ADAAA meant that employers had to really think about how to effectively accommodate employees with all types of disabilities. 

The ADAAA has greatly expanded employers’ obligations due its broad application, Kurtz said. “I think we are seeing the impact of the ADAAA in requiring employers to engage more often in the interactive process and increased litigation over failures to accommodate.” 

Looking forward, as a result of the ADAAA, Kurtz said, employers increasingly are choosing to centralize the interactive process to ensure legal compliance, and to ensure that accommodations are granted in a consistent way and well-documented.

Technology has also greatly expanded the types of accommodations individuals with disabilities can receive, Rhodes said. He advised that employers should expect more guidance on telecommuting and telework options in the future, as that technology becomes more and more sophisticated.

According to Rhodes and Kurtz, employers continue to struggle with the interaction between the Family and Medical Leave Act and the ADA. For example, Kurtz said, situation continue to arise where an employee needs intermittent FMLA leave, but the medical information needed to approve that request also puts the employer on notice for a possible need for accommodation under the ADA.

Additionally, Kurtz said, dealing with employees’ needs for extended leave beyond their FMLA entitlement is a continued puzzle for employers.

“Employers want to comply [with the ADA],” Rhodes said, but without clear guidance, it can be hard.

Employers should continue to think “outside of the box” and start the accommodation process with an open mind, she advised.