Posted in disability civil rights, Employment, Essential job functions and disabilities, Reasonable accommodation

Getting real about disability laws: Can an employer ever fire an employee with a disability?

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We’re all on information overload these days. So much seems to be coming at us from all sides. Worse yet, it’s very hard to tell if the information we’re absorbing is accurate. And it can be even worse if you have a disability, because you’re more likely to be isolated and not as able to access the people or documents that can help you work towards the truth.

Speaking of disabilities, one of the areas rife with misinformation is the AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA) and other laws designed to help people with disabilities get as fair a shake as possible in our society. That is why I am writing this series about some of the most common mistaken beliefs about these laws.

Today, I’m going to shed some light on the myth that an employer cannot fire an employee with a disability.

MYTH
If an employee with a disability cannot do her job, the employer cannot fire her but has to hire someone extra or make other employees do the work.

TRUTH
Like with anyone else, an individual with a disability does not have an automatic right to stay in a job unless she can actually perform it.

But the ADA is different from other discrimination laws in this respect: If an otherwise qualified employee needs reasonable accommodation in order to perform the essential functions of the job, the employer must provide the accommodation unless it would result in an undue hardship to the employer or cause a fundamental alteration in the workplace.

EXAMPLE
An office receptionist with a spinal deformity cannot sit for more than an hour or so at a time. It would probably be a reasonable accommodation for the employer to let him get up and stretch his legs for a few minutes every hour. This would allow him to do the job, and would result in little or no cost to the employer. But if his condition worsened to the point where he often had to leave his desk in the middle of customer calls, it would likely become an undue hardship for the employer to tolerate this situation.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION
As previously discussed, the ADA challenges both employers and employees to put fresh eyes on workplace tasks and determine whether they can be done in an effective (and possibly non-traditional) way. The law also requires that employers and employees work together to determine the best way for that to happen.

In this case, one option might be for the employer to purchase a desk that allows the employee to stand up as needed to do the job. Another might be to supply a cot or couch where the employee can answer the phone for part of the day. There are many potential solutions to this problem, and one of the best places to find them is at a government website called the JOB ACCOMODATION NETWORK. https://askjan.org

For more information, go to the “Employment” section on this website, or to https://www.ada.gov.

Author:

I am an attorney with a disability, and I co-teach a class on disability law. But because laws are just words, I would like to learn and convey more of the real world of living with a disability in the 21st Century.

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