Eric Updegraff

Hopkins & Huebner

Des Moines Office

Working with a Disability

What do you need to know if you or a loved one have a disability and are working?  The two most important things to understand are that what constitutes a disability and what protections are provided to individuals with a disability.

Disability Definition

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (“ICRA”) prevent an employer from discriminating against an employee based on a disability.  A disability is a condition or impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.  42 U.S.C. § 12112(a).  A “major life activity” can include a lot of different things like:  (1) walking; (2) caring for oneself; (3) working; (4) talking; and (5) lifting. It is a fact specific inquiry.  The term “substantially limits” does not require that the condition totally prevent performing the major life activity.  It also does not require that the condition significantly or severely restrict performance of a major life activity.

There is no exhaustive list of what conditions constitute a disability under the law.  The key factors are the severity of the condition and the impairments arising from that condition. 

Reasonable accommodation

The major protection that the law provides a disabled worker in the workplace is the reasonable accommodation requirement.

An employee with a disability should inform their employer of any necessary accommodations that would allow the employee to perform the job.  An employer must accommodate only those disabilities it knows about or should have known about.  If you have a disability the best way to make sure the employer knows about it is to tell the employer.  It is probably best to do so in writing when possible.

An employer must engage in an interactive dialogue with the employee about their disability and make any reasonable accommodations.  The employer should discuss potential accommodations with the employee and work toward a solution.  An employer cannot fire an employee for requesting an accommodation.

The employer must only agree to reasonable accommodations that are not unduly burdensome.  The employer does not have to reassign essential functions of an employee’s job duties.  The employer does not have to incur expenses that are cost prohibitive.

However, an employer must keep in mind that a reasonable accommodation usually works to treat a disabled worker better than a worker without a disability.

A proactive approach to disabilities in the workplace can help both sides create a positive work environment.

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