4-Part Series: Four Misunderstood Terms in the Americans with Disabilities Act (Part One)

by Mammoth Team on January 9, 2018

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to a lot of organizations—all public employers and any private employer with 15 or more employees. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of confusion about what the law requires and what its terms entail. A big reason for this confusion is the language of the law itself; the ADA speaks of nebulous concepts like undue hardship and reasonable accommodation. Words like undue and reasonable are by their nature open to some interpretation, which is not exactly a comfort to employers.

Fortunately, while there’s no getting completely around the inherent ambiguity of the ADA, employers can feel confident in their application of the law by reviewing and understanding its most important concepts. In this 4-part series, we’re going to define and analyze the terms disability, reasonable accommodation, undue hardship, and interactive process. These are the big four terms to know.

 Part One: Disability

Let’s start with the term disability. According to the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, someone who has a history or record of such an impairment, or someone who is regarded as having such an impairment.

While the law does not name every impairment that would be covered, it does identify some major life activities that could be limited by a disability. These include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

The most often misunderstood part of this definition is the phrase “regarded as disabled.” This phrase becomes important if the employer takes any adverse action because they believe a disability may exist. For example, if a hiring manager removes a candidate from consideration (adverse action) because the manager believed, rightly or wrongly, that the candidate has social anxiety, then the manager has illegally discriminated against the candidate because they regarded the candidate as disabled. In this situation, the candidate—even if they did not have social anxiety—would have a claim under the ADA.

In Part Two, we will discuss reasonable accommodation - how the EEOC defines it, common accommodations, and more.


Our HR Professionals have created the Interview Guide -- filled with role and industry-specific questions you can use from the phone screen to the final interview. This guide will help you remain compliant during the hiring process by providing non-discriminatory questions you can use for every candidate. 

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Topics: Compliance, Best Practices

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