It’s easy to identify someone who has a disability if they’re in a wheel chair or walking around with a seeing eye dog.
But what about a worker who wears a hearing aid or an employee who has epilepsy?
Can a manager fire someone with a hearing aid because they use a hearing aid? Can a boss demote a worker who has an epileptic fit?
Today, the answer is pretty much “yes.”
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act the law is pretty clear on those easy to spot disabilities. You can’t fire someone because they’re blind or unable to walk.
For all those other disabled employees out there who have what seems like less constraining physical issues or for those who are able to deal with their ailments through the use of medicines or prosthetics, for example, they are not typically covered under the ADA.
All that may change soon. The House passed a bill this week that would expand the ADA to cover disabilities that didn’t come under the really disabled umbrella.
This from the Washington Post this week:
WASHINGTON — People who take medicine to control epilepsy, diabetes or cancer or use prosthetic limbs or hearing aids could use the Americans With Disabilities Act to fight workplace discrimination under legislation the House passed Wednesday.
Lawmakers said the Supreme Court has limited the ADA’s reach since it was signed into law by the first President Bush in 1990. “For some the ADA is failing to live up to its promise,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.
The bill, passed 402-17, is designed to bring people back under the ADA’s protection. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Under the ADA today, a disability would have to “substantially” impact a person daily activities. Under the new legislation the wording would be changed to “materially restricts”, opening up the door for many disabled individuals who are challenged by their disability but can do many day-do-day functions we all do.
So what will this mean for the American workforce? Simply, more people will be considered disabled under the ADA.
“This means more employees will be able to ask for an accommodation even when the medication they take or the device they use (such as a hearing aid) makes them fully capable to do their job,” says David Ritter, an expert on employment law and chair of Neal Gerber Eisenberg’s Labor & Employment Group. “Employers will have to grant accommodations and engage in an interactive process with many more employees.”
It’s unfortunate that we need a law to force employers to “engage in an interactive process” with their workers.