Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that makes it illegal to discriminate against (treat unfairly or unequally) people with disabilities in all areas of employment. It also guarantees that disabled people have equal access to public services, such as transportation and voting, and equal access to public places, such as restaurants, stores, hotels, airports, and public buildings. The goal of the ADA is for everyone with a disability to be able to live a life of freedom and equality.

The first section of the ADA (often called Title I) applies to employment. It makes it illegal to discriminate against qualified jobseekers or employees with disabilities, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to jobseekers and employees with disabilities, unless the accommodation would result in undue hardship to the business. The law applies to all stages of employment, including the job application process, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and work-related events. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) also protects people with disabilities.

This article will explain the process of making sure your needs are met and your rights are respected when you look for a job, apply for a job, or get a job. This process may include disclosing your disability, requesting reasonable accommodations, negotiating your reasonable accommodations, and taking action if you feel discriminated against.

Not all employers are covered by these laws, but most are

The federal ADA only covers employers with 15 or more employees. California's FEHA covers employers with five or more full-time or part-time employees (giving employees of these smaller companies the right to a reasonable accomodation), and the FEHA definition of a disability is broader than the federal standards. Both laws apply to private employers, state and local governments, and employment agencies. The ADA does not apply to tax-exempt private membership clubs or the federal government. However, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is another law that is almost identical to the ADA and does apply to federal agencies. The ADA does not apply to businesses owned and operated by Indian tribes, but section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act may apply in situations when tribal employers accept federal financial assistance, as well as in cases when tribal laws have been adopted which are similar to the ADA.

The bottom line: If you work for an employer with five or more employees, your job is probably protected by one of these laws. If your employer has fewer than five employees, you may still be protected by these laws in some ways, depending on your situation.

Agencies That Can Help You

Disability Rights California is a federally designated Protection and Advocacy System for the State of California. Protection and Advocacy Systems are services that make sure the civil rights of persons with disabilities in California are protected. To accomplish this, DRC staff provide technical assistance statewide about the legal provisions of the ADA.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing protects Californians from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and from hate violence. California's definition of a disability is broader than the federal standards, and the state disability laws and rules provide employees more protections that the federal ADA, including employees of smaller companies.

For added details about the ADA and the legal rights it guarantees, see DB101's Know Your Rights and Responsibilities article.

Discrimination

If you are treated worse than other people, or unequally, because of your disability, you are being discriminated against. Disability discrimination can include being denied a necessary reasonable accommodation during hiring, when you are performing your job duties or meeting a job standard, or participating in job benefits. Here are a few examples of how you could be discriminated against at your job:

  • You are denied a job or a promotion because of a disability, or are paid less than other nondisabled coworkers doing the same or similar job.
  • Your employer uses a practice or a system that has the effect of screening you or a group of people with similar disabilities from jobs or opportunities because of disability, and it is not justified by the needs of the business.
  • You were denied a reasonable accommodation that was necessary to perform your job because the employer did not want to spend money on accommodations.
  • You face coercion, intimidation, or interference from enjoying the same privileges and benefits of employment because you asked for your rights under the ADA, or participated in the procedures under the ADA for investigating and addressing discrimination.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your disability, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General Civil Rights Section, or the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC). To learn more about how to file a complaint or lawsuit, read DB101's Know Your Rights and Responsibilities article.