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  • Writer's pictureDavid Manes

What duties does an employee have under the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) provides protection for “disabled individuals” who are currently employed or seeking employment. If an individual is disabled under the ADA, Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the individual’s disability. However, an individual first has to satisfy his/her duties in order to trigger the Employer’s duties to provide an accommodation under the ADA.

First, the individual has to establish that he/she actually has a case under the ADA. In order for an individual to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, the individual must demonstrate that he/she: (1) is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Stultz v. Reese Bros., Inc., 835 A.2d 754, 760 (Pa. Super. 2003).

The individual has to have a “disability” as defined within the ADA. The ADA defines a “disability” as an individual (1) with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) with a record of such an impairment or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. §12102(1).

The individual must be a “qualified individual” as defined within the ADA. The ADA defines a “qualified individual” as an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). This means that an individual must be able to perform the job functions “with or without an accommodation.” This is a key factor. For example, let’s say an individual’s job requires him/her to crawl through narrow shafts and he/she recently became paralyzed making it impossible to move their legs. No matter what accommodation the Employer provides, the individual will not be able to perform his/her essential job functions. Therefore, the individual is not a “qualified individual” under the ADA and the Employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Once the individual has in fact established that he/she is protected under the ADA, the Employer now must abide by the ADA. If the individual makes a request for accommodation, it is unlawful for their Employer not to make reasonable accommodations unless the Employer can prove that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business. Stultz, 835 A.2d 754, 761 (citing Taylor v. Phoenixville School Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 311 (3rd Cir. 1999)). From a legal standpoint, a “reasonable accommodation” does not require the employer to (1) change or eliminate any essential function of employment, (2) shift any essential function of employment to other employees, (3) create a new position for you, (4) promote you or (5) reduce productivity standards.

The individual has the initial burden of proving that he/she is disabled and falls under the protections of the ADA. Once the individual makes it through the initial hurdle, the burden shifts to the Employer. The Employer then has the burden to provide an accommodation. If the Employer cannot provide an accommodation, it is up to them to state why they cannot provide such. It is important to know your duties before engaging in any process for accommodation.

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