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Posts from Joshua Newville, a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator.

Accommodations at Work: Understanding Employer Responsibilities and Rights for Disabled Employees

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against employees and job seekers on the basis of disability. The ADA has been, and continues to be, an important law that enables people with disabilities to find employment in their chosen fields.

disabled employee using braille keyboard at work

Let's touch on some of the main points of the ADA that have implications for both employers and employees.

What Is a Disability?

Under the ADA, employees and job applicants are protected if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Such limitations include impairment of hearing, sight, speaking, walking, breathing, learning, and caring for one’s self.

What Does the ADA Do?

The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate in all employment practices, including recruiting, hiring, firing, promoting, paying, laying off, and providing leave.

Under the ADA and state laws, employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with physical and/or mental disabilities. The law applies to both private and public employers.

What Are Essential Functions?

To be protected by the ADA, the employee or job applicant must be both disabled and qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. The person must have the right educational background, skills, and other qualifications the employer requires.

They must also be able to perform the work if the employer makes a reasonable accommodation for their disability.

Employers must take care to determine what kinds of tasks are essential to a particular job. Written job descriptions are important here, as they can be used as evidence of what the employer believes are essential tasks.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

The key part of the ADA is that it requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job applicants with disabilities. Accommodations are changes to the workplace that allow a disabled person to participate in the job application process or do the job. A few examples of reasonable accommodations are:

  • Hiring a sign language interpreter to interpret for a hearing-impaired applicant during a job interview

  • Giving an employee with diabetes several breaks to eat properly and monitor their insulin levels

  • Allowing a service animal in the workplace

  • Modifying work schedules

  • Installing ramps, different style cubicles and/or other equipment to accommodate a wheelchair

Employers are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations unless they can show that doing so would pose an undue hardship on the business. This usually means showing that the accommodation would be very difficult or expensive. Undue hardships are not clear-cut and are often the subject of debate in ADA lawsuits.

Contact Me For Legal Advice Regarding Disability Issues in the Workplace

Disability discrimination is a complex topic, and I have only introduced some of the basics of it in this article. If you have specific questions about your rights as an employee or your obligations as an employer, don’t hesitate to contact me by scheduling a legal consultation or starting an online case review. I have extensive experience in all aspects of employment discrimination law and I’m ready to help.


Joshua Newville is a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator. Josh litigates and advises on such matters as wrongful termination, whistleblowers, discrimination, police misconduct, and more. He offers legal consultations and online case reviews regarding employment law and civil rights.


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