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Americans with Disabilities Act

Who Is A Qualified Individual Under The Americans With Disabilities Act?

By: Amanda A. Farahany, Attorney, Barrett & Farahany, LLP

The Americans with Disabilities Act’s broad remedial purpose is to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities who want to work and who are qualified to work. In enacting the ADA, Congress made clear that “the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.” In defining a “qualified individual”, the ADA looks at whether an individual with a disability is qualified for the specific position at issue, not at whether s/he is qualified for work in general.

The definition of disability is three pronged and means, with respect to an individual 1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; 2) a record of such an impairment; or 3) being regarded as having such an impairment. A qualified individual with a disability is an “individual with a disability who satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential function of such position”. The definition of the term “qualified individual with a disability” reflects this remedial purpose.   Accordingly, the definition 1) requires an individualized assessment of a particular individual’s capabilities; 2) focuses on the essential functions of a particular position; 3) looks at particular positions, not work in general; and 4) considers whether a person can work with reasonable accommodations.

The determination of whether a person is a “qualified individual with a disability” requires an individualized, case-by-case assessment of the specific abilities of the person, the specific requirements of the position that the person holds or desires, and the manner in which the person may be able or enabled to meet those requirements. The issues is whether a particular individual with a disability is qualified for a particular position, not whether the individual or a group of individuals with a disability is qualified for a class of positions.

Under the ADA, employers may justify their use of qualification standards that screen out or tend to screen out or otherwise deny a job or benefit to an individual with a disability, so long as such standards are job-related and consistent with business necessity and performance cannot be accomplished by reasonable accommodation.

Further, the definition of the term “qualified individual with a disability” expressly requires consideration of whether the individual can perform essential functions with reasonable accommodation. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities unless doing so would result in undue hardship. This reasonable accommodation requirement is critical to achieving the goals of the ADA.

In general, a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Some of the most common accommodations an employer may be required to provide are job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, modifications of equipment or devices, and other similar accommodations. The ADA operates to create an affirmative duty for employers to reasonably accommodate individuals with disabilities. Typically, it is not a reasonable accommodation to permit the employee to show up for work in a sporadic and unpredictable manner.

The assessment of whether an individual with a disability is qualified should be based on the capabilities of the individual with a disability at the time of the employment decision. It should not be based on speculation that the individual may become incapacitated in the future. The possibility of future injury should never act as a disqualification under the ADA.

Click here to view the full report, including information on the law and case examples concerning:

  • Individualized Assessment of the Particular Individual and Particular Position
  • Reasonable Accommodations
  • Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • Social Security/ Workers Compensation Disability
  • Judicial Estoppel
  • Timing
  • Direct Threat
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