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ADA Protection Requires That Employers Have Notice of Your Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against “qualified” individuals with disabilities with regard to employment decisions. The prohibition extends to job application procedures, hiring and firing practices and policies, promotions, discipline, compensation, job training and many other “terms, conditions and privileges of employment.”

Reasonable accommodations must be provided

Along with prohibiting discrimination, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled applicants or employees. A reasonable accommodation is simply an adjustment or modification an employer provides to enable individuals with disabilities to have equal employment opportunities. Of course, accommodations vary depending on what each individual needs, and not all individuals with disabilities will need the same accommodations. Under the ADA, an employer is “required, absent undue hardship, to provide a reasonable accommodation to an otherwise qualified individual who meets the definition of disability…” The term “undue hardship” means that, if the accommodation requires significant difficulty or expense, the employer may not be required to provide that accommodation. But, in order to receive these protections, your employer must have notice of your disability.

A recent Iowa case demonstrates this point

In a recent case on appeal in Iowa, the court was asked to decide whether it was appropriate to dismiss the employee’s disability discrimination case. The plaintiff had multiple sclerosis (MS) and he applied for a position as a firefighter. As part of the application process, he was required to undergo a pre-employment physical exam. The physician who performed the exam determined that he was not medically qualified for the firefighter position, so the employer did not hire him on that basis. The physician’s decision was based on the national firefighter guidelines which disqualify individuals who have had active MS symptoms within the previous three years. The reason is that MS symptoms could hinder job performance which would, in turn, endanger other firefighters as well as individuals requiring assistance in a fire emergency.

The decision not to hire the plaintiff

Although the physician did not clear the plaintiff for the position, it was not disclosed to the employer that the applicant had MS. Nor did the employer request any further explanation for the medical disqualification. Furthermore, the plaintiff never informed his potential employer that he had MS and did not request any type of accommodation. After being denied employment, the plaintiff filed a disability discrimination complaint. The employer offered to discuss reasonable accommodations with the plaintiff, but he refused to participate in the interactive process. Finally, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit.