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Does The Americans With Disabilities Act Apply To Job Applicants?

Yes. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires potential employers to provide you with reasonable accommodations during the hiring process. The law also affects what can and can't be asked during the interview and pre-hiring period.

Even in strong job markets, it can be a challenge to get a job if you have a disability that requires accommodation. The ADA was written to encourage people with disabilities to work and to keep employers from turning them away based on bias.

Accommodations during the interview process

It may be daunting to ask for an interview accommodation but be aware that the law requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodation" for disabilities in the hiring process and throughout the person's time with the company. An accommodation is considered reasonable if it would not cause the company "undue hardship," which generally means significant difficulty or expense. If they claim that a certain accommodation would cause undue hardship, they are required to provide a different accommodation that would not.

Examples of common accommodations that are generally considered reasonable include:

  • Holding recruitment events, interviews and tests in accessible locations
  • Providing written materials in formats such as audio, large print or braille
  • Providing a reader or sign language interpreter
  • Providing assistive devices or modifying equipment
  • Providing extra time for test-taking
  • Adjusting the application process or procedures

You should bring up your need for an accommodation as soon as you realize you will need one. This can be done orally or in writing. Then, you should respond to the employer's questions as quickly as possible, explaining how your proposed accommodation would help. Especially if your disability is not obvious, the employer does have the right to ask for reasonable documentation.

At this point, the employer may offer you a different accommodation than the one you asked for. If this proposed accommodation will not meet your needs, you will need to explain why. Employers do not have to provide you with the exact accommodation you asked for as long as the one they offer would work.

Do I have to bring up my disability in the interview?

No, and the ADA prohibits prospective employers during the interview/pre-offer period from asking questions that are likely to reveal the existence of a disability. Examples of prohibited questions include:

  • Do you have a disability that would require accommodation?
  • Do you have a heart problem?
  • How many days were you sick last year?
  • Have you ever been injured on the job?
  • Have you ever filed for disability compensation?
  • What prescriptions are you currently taking?

If you do reveal information about your disability, the ADA requires prospective employers to maintain strict confidentiality. However, they may share the information with people involved in the hiring process, safety personnel and certain state or federal government agencies.

I will need an accommodation to do the job. When should I tell the employer?

Deciding on the best moment to reveal a disability requiring accommodation is a personal and strategic decision, even though the ADA prohibits prospective employers from refusing to hire someone based on their disability status.

That said, you will need to discuss your needed accommodation upon getting a job offer. At that point, the employer can ask any questions necessary to determine what accommodation you will receive. Once you have a job offer, the company may also ask you to take a medical exam that may reveal your disability -- although they can't withdraw the job offer upon learning of your disability.

If you have specific questions about your rights under the ADA, contact an experienced employment law attorney.

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