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Rights of a Worker with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, stating that discrimination based on disability is illegal.  The ADA served to improve the lives of the disabled in five major aspects: employment, public services and transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, telecommunications and miscellaneous provisions.  In terms of employment, the Americans with Disabilities Act states that employers cannot discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability.  This extends beyond the hiring process to include the accommodations, treatment and rights of a worker with disabilities once an individual has been hired.

Employee rights of a worker with disabilities

You are protected by the ADA if you have a disability and are qualified to do a job.  The ADA defines disability as any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.”  As a disabled worker, you have the same employee rights as any other employee.  The employee rights of a worker with disabilities include: an equal opportunity to apply for jobs and work in jobs for which you are qualified, an equal opportunity to be promoted once working in a job, equal access to benefits and privileges of employment (such as employer-provided health insurance), and the employee right not to be harassed because of your disability.

It is up to you if you choose to voluntarily inform an employer about your disability during an interview.  Your employee rights of a worker with disabilities give you the right to refuse to answer any direct questions about your disability in a job application or interview.  However, once a job offer has been made, an employer has the right to ask you questions about your health or disability.  If the employer revokes your job offer, it must be for a reason relevant to the job requirements, but it is not okay to withdraw an offer based on your disability alone.

When applying for jobs, the rights of a worker with disabilities state that an employer must make “reasonable accommodations” to assist you.  For example, a deaf person should be provided with a sign language interpreter during an interview.  Once hired, if you are having trouble performing a job function because of a disability, you have the employee right to ask the employer to make “reasonable accommodations” to help you.  For example, a worker with diabetes might need to check his or her blood sugar throughout the day, so he or she has the employee right of a worker with disabilities to be given short, regularly scheduled breaks during the workday if needed.  Some other reasonable accommodations may include: providing or modifying equipment, job restructuring, modified work schedules, providing readers and interpreters, and making the workplace accessible to people with disabilities.  It is your responsibility to ask the employer for any accommodations you may need.

The bottom line is that an employer cannot refuse to hire you or terminate your employment because of your disability if you can perform the essential functions of your job.  In addition, an employer must be willing to take reasonable efforts to accommodate you and your disability.  If you feel that your employee rights of a worker with disabilities are being violated, you have the right to file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  For more information on the rights of a worker with disabilities, visit the EEOC’s “The ADA: your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability”.

Employer rights when hiring a disabled worker

During a job interview, employers cannot directly ask an individual about any health issues or disabilities.  However, employer rights do allow for questions regarding an individual’s ability to perform a specific job function.  For example, an appropriate and legal question could be, “Most of our staff has an accurate typing speed of 70 words per minute.  Can you meet this standard?”  An inappropriate and illegal question would be, “Does your disability affect your typing speed?”  Another example is that employers have the right to ask an individual how much time off they took at their last job; however, it would violate the rights of a worker with disabilities to ask them to provide a reason why they took time off.

Employer rights allow an employer to ask a job applicant to take a medical exam; however, this can only be done after a job offer has been made.  In addition, all applicants must take the medical exam, regardless of disability.  If a job offer is revoked based on the findings of the examination, it must be for a relevant, job-related reason.

Before refusing to hire or terminating an individual’s employment, employers must also meet the rights of a worker with disabilities by investigating any reasonable accommodations or measures that could be taken to enable a disabled worker to better meet the job requirements.  For example, special computer software may be available that would allow a blind person to read a computer screen.  However, an accommodation is not reasonable if it would result in significant difficulty or a large expense to the business.  Furthermore, an employer should not alter a job’s essential function or lower standards for an employee with disabilities.

For more information on the ADA and employer rights regarding workers with disabilities, read the “Americans with Disabilities Act: A Primer for Small Businesses”.

Finding a job for workers with disabilities

Disabled workers can obtain jobs competitively as a qualified applicant in a pool of other qualified applicants, regardless of disability.  The ADA has made this easier by establishing laws in employment to eliminate discrimination based on disability.  This ensures that if a disabled person is not hired, it is not because of discrimination; instead, it is because the individual cannot perform the job task.  However, some people with disabilities may still feel that they are having a hard time finding work.  In addition, certain companies may be more open to hiring a diverse work force than others.  Careers & the disABLED magazine published by Equal Opportunities Publications Inc. has compiled a list of companies that are actively recruiting college graduates and professionals with disabilities.  Here are some of the companies on their list:

In addition to these companies and many others, the U.S. Government also makes great efforts to recruit workers with disabilities.  From military occupations in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, to the U.S. Department of State, Secretary of Defense, Social Security Administration and FBI, the variety offered in government jobs may provide you with the career you are hoping to find.  A government job is sure to respect the rights of a worker with disabilities.

Looking for more resources on rights of a worker with disabilities? Here are links to various disabilities services Web sites and disabilities services organizations:

Many states have their own disabilities services agencies which offer resources and help to workers with disabilities, children with disabilities, etc.



2 Responses for "Rights of a Worker with Disabilities"

  • alkhan t. ismael December 24th, 2008 at 3:45 pm 1

    Merry Xmas and Happy New year to all.

    Well, its really nice to read the law in regards to employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, I am one of the people who was terminated from my job because the doctor didnt give me full clearance to work as a registered nurse… because also i am a diabetic and they saw protein in my urine… I do know the complication of my condition but all my lab works where normal except for glucose, protein and blood in my urine.I even went to 2 primary doctors and consulted a specialist and were suprise with that hospital doctor’s decision… I tried so hard to normalize my laboratories but still the doctor didnt give me full clearance thats why they let me go. It was so disheartening because I am new here in the country. And it is my dream to work as a RN… But life goes on, thanks for the articles and information…

    God bless and happy holidays,
    Alkhan T. Ismael R.N.

  • d blyzes December 31st, 2009 at 2:03 pm 2

    I disagree with the list of companies that help people with disabilities. General Motors should be taken off that list because of their policies that are mandatory that rotation on different jobs is a must. People with disabilities can not do certain jobs and if one of those rotating jobs is one of them even though they may be able to do at least 3 of the 5 jobs, then they are discriminated against and put out of the plant on sick leave and then disability from the government. There policy to honor restrictions given by outside doctors is discriminated in itself because the policy says that the restrictions only given by the plant doctor are to be honor, the plant doctor are not specialist, they are only alternative care doctors and they do not have the knowledge that orthopedic specialist have concerning the body so therefore they will not honor a specialist restriction and force more problems on the employee to either do the job and get hurt or quit. If you do do the job and get hurt then they are not responsible because you had this condition before you did that job.


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