While most people know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees who have obvious visual, hearing, and physical impairments, how the law relates to employees with cancer and intellectual disabilities can sometimes raise questions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces the employment provisions of the ADA and where an employee must initiate a charge of discrimination before filing a lawsuit, endeavors to answer these questions with its recently issued guidelines on how the ADA applies to employees with these conditions.
For employees living with cancer, the new guidelines discuss when an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about their cancer, what type of reasonable accommodations employees may need, and handling safety concerns about employees with cancer. An employee who has cancer and is currently undergoing treatment or has a history of cancer has a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Misguided assumptions and discrimination abound about an employee’s ability to concentrate and how much leave they will need for treatment and doctor visits. These Guidelines explain in detail who may be told about an employee’s cancer, the various accommodations available from telecommuting to control over the office thermostat, and when an employer may or may not grant the accommodation requested.
The Guidelines characterize “intellectual disabilities” as significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior that may affect a person’s daily social and practical skills such as communication. The EEOC lists several accommodations for employees with intellectual disabilities such as demonstrating what a job entails (not just describing it), reallocation of marginal tasks to other employees, repeating instructions, breaking tasks down into manageable chunks, and the use of detailed schedules for task completion. The EEOC guidelines also discuss, in detail, when an supervisor can ask about a person’s intellectual disability and what may be asked.
For employees with these disabilities, the EEOC describes how employees may directly or indirectly request accommodations, who within the employment environment can know about the employee’s disability, and the confidentiality of medical records. It’s important to request accommodations, which many employees suffering from cancer and living with intellectual disabilities are reluctant to do because they may not want to be perceived as less capable than others. However, the ADA has expanded the protections it affords to these employees and requires employers to step up with their compliance. If employers do not? Well, the employee (or applicant) should and can file a charge of discrimination for violation of the ADA.
by Amy Gluck – Contributor