Employment Guide for People with Disabilities

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 Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. The law is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in conjunction with the state and local civil rights commissions.

All employment practices are covered under the ADA such as:

  • Recruitment
  • Firing
  • Hiring
  • Training
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Pay
  • Benefits
  • Lay offs
  • Leave
  • All other employment related activities.

The Act also protects you if you are a victim of discrimination because of your family, business, social, or other relationship or association with an individual with a disability.

In 2009, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act brought significant changes to the law, including modifications to the definition of disability. The change affirms that the definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent allowed by the terms of the ADA and generally should not require extensive analysis. 

Employers Covered by the ADA

It is illegal for private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations, and labor-management committees to discriminate against people with disabilities.

The part of the ADA enforced by the EEOC outlaws job discrimination by:

  • All employers, including state and local government employers, with 25 or more employees after July 26, 1992, and
  • All employers, including state and local government employers, with 15 or more employees after July 26, 1994.

Fairfax County prohibits discrimination in employment by employers having four or more employees.

Employees and Applicants Protected by the ADA

In order to be protected under the ADA, you must satisfy the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills, or licenses, as well as you must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job.

If you are applying for a job, an employer cannot ask you if you have a disability or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. An employer can ask if you can perform the duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer can also ask you to describe or to demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodations, you will perform the duties of the job.

An employer cannot require you to take a medical examination before you are offered a job. Following a job offer, an employer can condition the offer on your passing a required medical examination, but only if all entering employees for that job category have to take the examination. However, an employer cannot reject you because of information about your disability revealed by the medical examination, unless the reasons for rejection are job-related and necessary for the conduct of the employer's business.

Once you have been hired and started work, your employer cannot require that you take a medical examination or ask questions about your disability unless they are related to your job and necessary for the conduct of your employer's business.

The results of all medical examinations must be kept confidential, and maintained in separate medical files.

Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace

A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. For example, reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Providing or modifying equipment or devices,
  • Job restructuring,
  • Part-time or modified work schedules,
  • Reassignment to a vacant position,
  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies,
  • Providing readers and interpreters, and
  • Making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

An employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless the employer can show that the accommodation would be an undue hardship -- that is, that it would require significant difficulty or expense.

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Disclosing Your Disability

If you think you will need a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions, you should inform the employer that an accommodation will be needed. It is the responsibility of the applicant or employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations when requested.

Hiring Decisions

The ADA does not require that an employer hire an applicant with a disability over other applicants because the person has a disability. The ADA only prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It makes it unlawful to refuse to hire a qualified applicant with a disability because the person has a disability or because a reasonable accommodation is required to make it possible for this person to perform essential job functions. 

Employer-Provided Health Insurance Plans

The ADA requires that an employer provide employees with disabilities equal access to whatever health insurance coverage is offered to other employees. 

The ADA does not affect pre-existing condition clauses contained in health insurance policies even though such clauses may adversely affect employees with disabilities more than other employees.

Filing Employment-Related Discrimination Charges

If you think you have been discriminated against in employment on the basis of disability, you should contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A charge of discrimination generally must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. You may have up to 300 days to file a charge if there is a state or local law that provides relief for discrimination on the basis of disability. 

If the employer is located in Fairfax County, you may also file a discrimination charge with the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission. The commission will investigate your charges and facilitate an appropriate remedy.     

If you have been discriminated against, you are entitled to a remedy that will place you in the position you would have been in if the discrimination had never occurred. You may be entitled to hiring, promotion, reinstatement, back pay, or reasonable accommodation, including reassignment. You may also be entitled to attorney fees. 

It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights under the ADA. 

Federal Employment Resources

Disability.Gov is an online resource for Americans with disabilities that offers relevant information on career counseling, job training, workplace accommodations, writing a business plan, funding sources, and much more.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers a free consulting service of ODEP operated by West Virginia University providing individualized worksite accommodation solutions, technical assistance regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and information about self employment options.

Mid-Atlantic ADA Center is a federally-funded technical assistance center that provides training, information, and resources to facilitate employment of individuals with disabilities.   

Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor designed to ensure that Americans with disabilities have the opportunity to learn and develop skills and engage in productive work. ODEP is charged with the responsibility of providing a national focus on enhancing the employment of persons with a disability. 

Schedule A is the federal noncompetitive appointment authority specifically used to hire persons with intellectual, severe physical, or psychiatric disabilities into the federal government. 

Ticket to Work Program is a free government program for people with disabilities who are interested in employment. The goal of the Ticket Program is to increase opportunities and choices for Social Security disability beneficiaries to obtain employment, vocational rehabilitation, and other support services from public and private providers, employers, and other organizations. 

U.S. Department of Justice is the federal agency that enforces federal laws pertaining to civil rights and other laws, including the American with Disabilities Act. 

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency that enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. 

USAJOBS is the official job site of the federal government, which lists federal job opportunities and employment information.

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State Employment Resources

Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI) is a state agency that assists people who are blind or visually impaired in obtaining employment through vocational evaluation, job training, job development, placement, follow-up, and other services. 

Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) is a state agency that helps people with disabilities prepare for, find, and keep a job. DRS provides vocational rehabilitation services to include counseling and guidance, job search and placement assistance, skill training, and other vocational training and education. 

Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is a state agency that provides employment assistance to workers, including job referral and placement, training referrals, and job search skills. 

Virginia Assistive Technology System ensures that those who need assistive technology in their daily lives, to include work, are able to obtain it, which includes everything from hearing aids to wheelchairs to computers. All regional sites have a variety of devices to compensate for various disabilities and a knowledgeable staff to demonstrate how they work. The local regional site for the Fairfax area is the Helen A. Keller Institute for Human disAbilities, housed at George Mason University in Fairfax.    

For those who need financial assistance to obtain an assistive technology piece of equipment, the Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority provides low interest loans to eligible applicants.

Virginia Office of Equal Employment Services is a state agency that investigates discrimination charges by state employees.

Local Employment Resources

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind provides state-of-the-art training in a variety of assistive devices to qualify for technically oriented employment. They also provide training, seminars, and one-on-one counseling on a wide spectrum of career services to include job-seeking skills, resume writing, interviewing techniques, and developing job leads

ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia is a community-based resource and advocacy center run by and for people with disabilities that promotes independent living and equal access for all persons with disabilities. 

Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs is a county agency that investigates discriminate charges in Fairfax County. The Human Rights Division investigates employment discrimination by employers located in Fairfax County and the Equity Programs Division investigates employment related discrimination by Fairfax County Government. 

Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board is a Fairfax County agency that provides services to people with intellectual disabilities, people with mental health issues, and people with substance abuse issues. The Intellectual Disability Services division has a cooperative employment program, which provides on-the-job training for persons with intellectual disabilities. The staff also provide disability awareness training for employers. Extensive follow-up services are provided to ensure the success of the job placement.

Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing is a non-profit organization to empower deaf and hard of hearing persons through education, advocacy, and community involvement. They have the capability to organize workshops and seminars to meet specific needs. They have an Assistive Technology Demonstration Center which provides “hands-on” experience with devices designed to enhance quality of life for persons with a hearing loss. They have classes on signing (ASL). While they do not offer direct assistance in seeking employment, their services can aid directly in preparing persons with a hearing loss to seek employment.

Northern Virginia Workforce Investment Board operates five One-Stop Skillsource Centers, which, free of charge, offer skills assessment, career training, job placement, personalized counseling, interview and resume preparation, and job search assistance. They provide access to fax machines, copiers, computers, the internet, and all job listings and job fairs in the area. 

Senior Employment Resources isa non-profit organization dedicated to providing job searching resources and placement services to job seekers, age 50 and older, who reside in Northern Virginia.

Unemployment Benefits 

Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) administers a variety of programs that may provide temporary income for workers who have become unemployed. You can file an initial or continued unemployment claim by telephone, on-line, or in person at any VEC field office. 

Social Security Benefits

The Social Security Administration administers two programs that provide assistance to persons with disabilities. 

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to individuals and certain members of his/her family if the individual is Social Security “insured”, (meaning the person has worked in jobs covered by Social Security), and the person has a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability. Monthly cash benefits are paid until the person is able to work again on a regular basis.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is an income supplement program that pays benefits based on financial need. It is designed people with disabilities who have little or no income; it pays cash benefits to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

If you have been denied SSI or SSDI or need assistance applying for benefits, contact Legal Services of Northern Virginia for free legal assistance.


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