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Minnesota Employer Issues: Disabilities and Discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. The employment provisions of Title I, which affect only employers with 25 or more employees, went into effect on July 26, 1992. The Act was modified on July 24, 1994 to include within its protections employers who have at least 15 employees.

The Act is directed at unfair prejudice and discrimination based on stereotypical notions about disabilities. The goal was to place disabled Americans on an equal footing with their able-bodied counterparts in seeking, obtaining and retaining employment. The Act requires employers to facilitate new or continued employment by making "reasonable accommodations" for any employee or potential employee with a recognized disability.

Some of the key issues under Title I are:
  • When is a person considered disabled?
  • When is a disabled person qualified to hold a particular position?
  • What efforts by an employer will constitute "reasonable accommodation" of a disabled person?
Answers to these questions are not always easy. For example, in Rhode Island, a job applicant described in medical documentation as "morbidly obese" applied for a medical position at a state facility. She was turned down and pursued a claim under the ADA. In her lawsuit, the job applicant argued that her disability (her weight) did not prevent her from meeting all the requirements for the job. The state disagreed describing numerous situations in which a "morbidly obese" employee would not be able to perform the necessary job functions. The job applicant prevailed in her lawsuit when the Court ruled that "morbidly obese" fell within the parameters necessary to be recognized as a protected disability.

Determining what is a recognized disability is not always easy. Even more difficult is determining what steps an employer must take to make a reasonable accommodation which will allow the disabled employee to carry out their job duties. An accommodation may be as simple as providing a chair for an employee with a leg injury who would normally be required to stand on the job.

Employers must also take precautions not to discriminate in the hiring process. Requiring physical examinations before hiring, for example, may set the stage for claims that the prospective employer improperly considered a disability as a hiring criteria.

Does your company have the safeguards in place to prevent a lawsuit?

For a confidential consultation call (612) 240-8005

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