facebook linkedin-square google-plus menu-arrow angle-left angle-right envelope angle-double-right level-up envelope phone map-marker

ADA and Reasonable Accommodations

Legal Counsel for Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector

Information and resources on nonprofit law & regulation

Back To Top

ADA and Reasonable Accommodations

This article was authored by Tracey Bolotnick, an Attorney at Hurwit & Associates with extensive experience advising exempt organizations on employment matters. She can be contacted at (617) 630-6900 or tbolotnick@hurwitassociates.com for further information.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers all employers of 15 or more employees, for-profit and nonprofit alike, and prohibits discrimination in employment practices, such as hiring, firing, advancement and compensation, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It also protects employees from retaliation when they enforce their rights under the ADA.

The ADA protects individuals with disabilities, meaning those who (i) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, or working), (ii) have a record of such an impairment (such as someone recovering from cancer or a mental illness), or (iii) are regarded as having such an impairment (such as someone with a severe facial disfigurement).

For example, an individual with epilepsy, paralysis, HIV infection, AIDS, a substantial hearing or visual impairment, mental retardation, or a specific learning disability is covered, but an individual with a minor, non-chronic condition of short duration, such as a sprain, broken limb, or the flu, generally would not be covered.

It is important to note that the ADA does not require an employer to hire or retain a disabled individual unless he or she is able to meet the legitimate skill, experience, education, and other requirements of the employment position, and can perform the essential functions of the job, either with or without a "reasonable accommodation."

A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. Examples of reasonable accommodations include making existing facilities accessible, modifying work schedules, acquiring or modifying equipment, and providing qualified readers or interpreters. Reassigning a current employee to a vacant position for which the individual is qualified, if the person is unable to do the original job, may also be a reasonable accommodation, but employers are not obligated to find or create a position for an applicant who is not qualified for the position sought. Employers are also not required to lower quality or quantity standards as an accommodation or to provide personal items such as glasses or hearing aids.

The appropriate reasonable accommodation must be based on the particular facts of each case, and can be worked out by the employer and employee together. The requirement is typically triggered by a request from the employee. In general, if the individual does not request an accommodation, the employer is not obligated to provide one.

Notably, an employer is not required to make an accommodation which would impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business. "Undue hardship" is defined as an "action requiring significant difficulty or expense" when considered in light of the size, resources, nature, and structure of the employer business. Undue hardship is a factual determination analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA at the federal level. Many states have similar laws that protect employers with fewer than 15 employees.

Additional Resources

For more information regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act, refer to the following resources: