The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title I of the ADA covers employment by private employers with 15 or more employees as well as state and local government employers of the same size. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act provides the same protections for federal employees and applicants for federal employment.
The ADA protects a qualified individual with a disability from disparate treatment or harassment based on disability, and also provides that, absent undue hardship, a qualified individual with a disability is entitled to reasonable accommodation to perform, or apply for, a job or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. The ADA also includes rules regarding when, and to what extent, employers may seek medical information from applicants or employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. Most states also have their own laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of disability. Some of these laws may apply to smaller employers and provide protections in addition to those available under the ADA.
Health care is the largest industry in the American economy, and has a high incidence of occupational injury and illness. Though they are “committed to promoting health through treatment and care for the sick and injured, health care workers, ironically, confront perhaps a greater range of significant workplace hazards than workers in any other sector.” Health care jobs often involve potential exposure to airborne and bloodborne infectious disease, sharps injuries, and other dangers; many health care jobs can also be physically demanding and mentally stressful. Moreover, health care workers with occupational or non-occupational illness or injury may face unique challenges because of societal misperceptions that qualified health care providers must themselves be free from any physical or mental impairment.
Although the rules under Title I of the ADA and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act are the same for all industries and work settings, this fact sheet explains how the ADA might apply to particular situations involving job applicants and employees in the health care field. Topics discussed include:
when someone is an “employee” covered by the ADA (as opposed to an independent contractor);
when someone is an "individual with a disability" under the ADA;
how to determine if a health care applicant or employee with a disability is qualified for ADA purposes;
what types of reasonable accommodations health care workers with disabilities may need and the limitations on a health care employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation;
when an employer may ask health care applicants or employees questions about their medical conditions or require medical examinations; and
how a health care employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees.
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