The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title I of the ADA covers employment by private employers with 15 or more employees as well as state and local government employers of the same size.

The ADA protects a qualified individual with a disability from discrimination or harassment based on disability, and also provides that, absent undue hardship, a qualified individual with a disability is entitled to reasonable accommodation to perform, or apply for, a job or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. The ADA also includes rules regarding when, and to what extent, employers may seek medical information from applicants or employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. Most states also have their own laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of disability. Some of these laws may apply to smaller employers and provide protections in addition to those available under the ADA.

Since the ADA was amended in 2008, the number of disability discrimination claims filed with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has increased by 50%, and represent almost a third of all claims filed in 2018, the last year for which statistics are available. The health care industry is a prime target for such claims, given that it has a high incidence of occupational injury and illness. Health care workers confront a wide range of significant workplace hazards, more so than most workers, including potential exposure to airborne and bloodborne infectious disease, needlestick injuries, musculoskeletal injuries, and stress. Also, health care workers with occupational or non-occupational illness or injury may face unique challenges given legitimate concerns that an illness or injury could impact patient care and safety.

Issues related to ADA compliance include:

  • when someone is an “employee” covered by the ADA (as opposed to an independent contractor);
  • when someone is an "individual with a disability" under the ADA;
  • how to determine if a health care applicant or employee with a disability is qualified for ADA purposes;
  • what types of reasonable accommodations health care workers with disabilities may need and the limitations on a health care employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation;
  • how a health care employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees; and
  • when an employer may ask health care applicants or employees questions about their medical conditions or require medical examinations.

These issues will be addressed in subsequent blogs.