What Are My Employer’s Responsibilities?

What laws protect me (the employee)?

Passed in 1990 and amended in 2008, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities who are able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation.

To be protected under this law, you must have a disability that limits one or more major life activities, have a history of a disability, or be regarded as having a disability. Employment is considered one kind of life activity.

If you are disabled with respect to a life activity for at least six months, you are a “qualified” individual with a disability under ADA. Even after you have recovered from your burn injury you still would be protected from discrimination by an employer because you have a history of being burned or because you are regarded as having a disability because of your burn. For example, if an employer assumed that you had a disability because of scarring and did not hire you because he/she was concerned about what co-workers or the public might think, that could be considered discrimination.

An employer must make “reasonable accommodation” to your disability if that does not impose an undue hardship to the business. Whether an accommodation is considered a “hardship” depends on the employer size, financial resources, nature of the operation, and other factors.

When you apply for a job, an employer cannot ask you about the existence, nature, or severity of your disability, even if you have obvious scarring or limb loss. You are not required to disclose (reveal) your status as a burn survivor. It may be helpful to discuss this with burn center staff or a vocational rehabilitation counselor before deciding. An employer is allowed to ask if you can perform the essential functions of the job “with or without accommodations.”

An employer can require you to pass a medical examination only if it is job-related and required of all employees in similar jobs..

How can I get the accommodations or changes in the workplace that I need in order to return to work?

What rights and obligations does an employer have?

An employer has a right to expect that an employee with a disability can do the essential functions of a job with or without accommodations. If an accommodation would cause the employer an “undue hardship,” then it is not considered reasonable. What is “reasonable” depends on the size and budget for the employer.  Employers are also not required to make accommodations which might make the workplace unsafe for the employee with a disability, co-workers, or members of the public.

One kind of accommodation is to keep a job open for an employee to return to. There is no hard and fast rule about how long a position should remain open. Both the employer and the employee should consider the interaction between keeping the job open and the requirements of the Federal Medical and Family Leave Act (FMLA) which may come into play.

What can I do if I think an employer has discriminated against me?

If you feel an employer has discriminated against you, contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Call 1-800-669-4000 to find the office nearest you, or go to eeoc.gov.  Many states have powerful disability rights laws as well.  For more information about the ADA, visit adata.org.