The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law on July 26, 1990. It is an expansive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in hiring and employment based on an applicant’s disability, giving all applicants a fair shake.

The original ADA was updated with new regulations in 2008 that affect business hiring and employment practices. The 2008 amendments provide more detail concerning who is protected under the ADA and the responsibilities of privately-owned businesses in accommodating employees with a range of disabilities.

What is a disability? The ADA defines a disability as:

  • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (i.e. working, talking, hearing, seeing, caring for one’s self, etc.);
  • having a record or history of such an impairment;
  • being regarded by others as having an impairment, such as people with severe facial scarring.

Title I of the ADA focuses on employment policies. Title II affects government agencies and hiring practices, while Title III applies to customers, clients and others not in a company’s employ but associated with a business, public transportation, and public accommodations like restrooms or entryways.

Who enforces ADA regulations? That task falls on the shoulders of the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has enforcement responsibility for all state and local entities. The EEOC is tasked with assuring fair and equal treatment in hiring practices to protect the rights of disabled applicants and employees in securing employment and in being able to access that employment.

If the EEOC receives a complaint of discrimination based on an applicant’s or employee’s disability, it will investigate and make a determination. It can require the business to make changes to its hiring practices, and even to install ramps, hand rails and other adaptive devices to enable disabled workers to get to their jobs and perform their work.

What must business owners know about the ADA? Title I of the ADA – the workplace regulations that describe acceptable procedures for hiring disabled employees – provides very specific rules and regulations regarding hiring practices. It covers all aspects of hiring, including job postings, interview procedures, hiring practices, and workplace rules.

Following the rules is essential for compliance. It’s also the right thing to do. If an individual can do the job, a disability shouldn’t prevent that individual from being hired.

The basic regulations for small businesses covered under the ADA include:

Employers with more than 15 employees working each day must provide equal opportunity access to employment for individuals with disabilities.

Employers are further defined as operating “for at least 20 or more calendar weeks in the year.”

Employers must hire, terminate, and promote the most qualified individual regardless of any disability, giving disabled employees the same opportunities to move up the employment ladder to better-paying jobs.

According to Title I, “all employers are required to make necessary reasonable accommodations for known disabilities of a qualified applicant or employee unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.”

It prohibits employers from requiring medical exams before hiring a disabled employee. Related to this regulation, employers cannot require employment tests or other selection criteria that screen individuals for disabilities unless the pre-employment medical exam or test is directly related to the work that employee is expected to perform.

The ADA does permit employers to inquire about an individual’s ability to do a job.

Employers may not fire an employee for asserting his or her rights under the ADA.

The employer must make a reasonable attempt to accommodate the special needs of disabled employees. This may include special schedules, tele-commuting, adaptive fixtures in the office and work areas, and other changes to a job description that enable a disabled applicant to succeed in your workplace.

You can learn more about hiring and employment practices under the ADA at the EEOC website.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.