Frequently Asked Questions

Q) What aspects of the employment relationship does the ADA cover?

Q) How do I handle an applicant who has a visible disability or makes mention of a physical or medical condition in the course of the interview? Can I inquire about an applicant’s medical condition?

Q) What are disability related questions that I should avoid during the interview process?

Q) What questions can I ask during the interview process?

Q) The best candidate for the position has a visible disability or made mention of the need for accommodations once hired. I wish to make an offer. When can I ask about the nature of the accommodation?

Q) I am prepared to make an offer to a person with a disability and in the course of reference checks wish to ask about the person’s prior disability or accommodations, is this permissible?

Q) An applicant asks for the interview location to be moved for accessibility purposes, or asks for a sign-language interpreter. Do I have to provide that type of assistance and who pays for the interpreter?

Q) An employee often makes mention of a health problem or the need to go for a doctor’s appointment. Should I treat the employee differently or make changes to the workload given the health problem?

Q) What does it mean if I regard someone as if they have a disability? For example, what if I think someone has dyslexia because of poor writing skills and I don’t have them write memos, or I allow another employee to come in to work an hour or so later after the standard start time because the person mentioned being depressed in the morning?

Q) Are there certain buzz words or trigger words which obligate me to consider an employee’s request for an accommodation?

Q) Are there instances where I can informally consider an employee’s request for an ergonomic keyboard or chair or change in work schedule and not have to consult with IDEAA?

Q) My department does not have funds to provide reasonable accommodations and it is burdensome to provide either modifications to the employee’s job duties or alter the physical structure of the work environment. Do I have to?

Q) What exactly does undue hardship mean?

Q) I have an employee, who has a disability and/or an accommodation. The employee begins to have performance problems. How should I respond?

Q) I have an employee who has an accommodation and other employees ask questions about why the person is absent or why certain duties have been re-assigned. How do I handle those situations?

Q) Are there instances where either management or IDEAA does not approve an accommodation?

Q) An employee with a disability complains to me that other co-workers are making rude and inappropriate comments towards the employee about his or her disability. How should I respond?

Q) What aspects of the employment relationship does the ADA cover?

A) The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person with a disability in any employment practice. Employment practices include but are not limited to, the following:

  • Recruitment
  • Hiring
  • Compensation
  • Dismissal
  • Promotion
  • Tenure
  • Job assignments
  • Training
  • Leave
  • Benefits
  • Other terms, conditions, or privileges of employment 

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Q) How do I handle an applicant who has a visible disability or makes mention of a physical or medical condition in the course of the interview? Can I inquire about an applicant’s medical condition?

A) You should not comment on an applicant’s disability or ask disability, medical, or religious related questions during the interview process or before an applicant is offered a position. You may ask about the ability of an applicant to perform the job with or without reasonable accommodations. If the known disability or medical condition is relevant to the job functions, the applicant may be asked to describe or demonstrate how the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job, even if other applicants have not been asked to do so. However, if the known disability or medical condition of an applicant will not interfere with the performance of a job-related function, you may only request a description or demonstration by the applicant if you make such a request of all applicants.

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Q) What are disability related questions that I should avoid during the interview process?

A) A disability related question is one that tends to seek information about such things as:

  • Whether the person has a disability
  • The type of disability
  • The severity of the disability
  • A few examples of unlawful questions (there may be others as well):
    • Have you had a major illness in the last few years?
    • Have you ever been treated for mental health/ alcohol/ cancer, etc?
    • Do you have asthma, AIDS, a mental health condition, etc.?
    • Do you have a disability/impairment/condition that would interfere with your ability to perform the job?

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Q) What questions can I ask during the interview process?

A) You can ask about the applicant’s ability to perform job-related functions with or without reasonable accommodation, as long as the questions are not phrased in terms of a disability, and as long as you would ask the same questions of ALL applicants. Interview questions must always be job-related and focus on the essential functions of the job.

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Q) The best candidate for the position has a visible disability or made mention of the need for accommodations once hired. I wish to make an offer. When can I ask about the nature of the accommodation?

A) Once an applicant is offered a job, but before the start date, you may ask what accommodation, if any, is needed to perform the job. However, remember you cannot ask about the underlying disability or medical condition. Please consult with IDEAA about the interactive process to implement the accommodations.

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Q) I am prepared to make an offer to a person with a disability and in the course of reference checks wish to ask about the person’s prior disability or accommodations, is this permissible?

A) No. A hiring manager may not ask a previous employer or any third party questions that they could not legally ask the applicant. You cannot ask references, former colleagues, or family/friends about the applicant’s disability, sick leave usage, illnesses or worker’s compensation claims.

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Q) An applicant asks for the interview location to be moved for accessibility purposes, or asks for a sign-language interpreter. Do I have to provide that type of assistance and who pays for the interpreter?

A) Yes, you need to comply with the ADA and other relevant laws in the recruitment and selection process. This includes informing applicants in need of an accommodation that, in collaboration with IDEAA, accommodations will be provided as part of the interview process. It is the responsibility of the hiring department (and not IDEAA) to pay for any costs associated with providing an accommodation. IDEAA can provide a list of resources for interpreters and other similar needs. 

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Q) An employee often makes mention of a health problem or the need to go for a doctor’s appointment. Should I treat the employee differently or make changes to the workload given the health problem?

A) No. You should treat this employee as you would treat anyone who is requesting time away from work for personal reasons. Unless an employee asks specifically for an adjustment to the workload, adjustment to the schedule or other terms of the position, you are not obligated to provide assistance or accommodate the employee. In fact, you should use caution in treating an employee as if there is a disability in need of an accommodation if you were not informed of a disability by the employee.

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Q) What does it mean if I regard someone as if they have a disability? For example, what if I think someone has dyslexia because of poor writing skills and I don’t have them write memos, or I allow another employee to come in to work an hour or so later after the standard start time because the person mentioned being depressed in the morning?

A) It is advisable that you not treat an employee differently based on a perceived disability. Similarly, you should not unilaterally decide to alter the requirements or the duties of the position. The ADA protects employees who are regarded by employers as disabled. An employee is “regarded as” disabled, if the employer makes employment decisions (e.g. hiring, promotion, demotion, discipline, compensation, termination) based on an actual or perceived impairment. Please consult with IDEAA before altering the terms or conditions of an employee’s job functions or before making employment decisions in instances of perceived disabilities.

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Q) Are there certain buzz words or trigger words which obligate me to consider an employee’s request for an accommodation?

A) No. An employee does not have to mention the ADA or use buzz words like “reasonable accommodations”. An employee in plain language can inform you of the need for an adjustment or change in the performance of the job functions because of a medical condition or impairment. In some instances, when an employee submits a “Return to Work Medical Certification Form Following Family/Medical Leave,” the health care provider may note on the form a medical condition or restrictions which could impact the ability to perform the functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. This may trigger the interactive process and it is important to consult with IDEAA in those instances.

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Q) Are there instances where I can informally consider an employee’s request for an ergonomic keyboard or chair or change in work schedule and not have to consult with IDEAA?

A) Yes. If you typically consider all employees’ requests for ergonomic key boards or chairs or changes in work schedules and provide such assistance to all staff, then it may not be necessary to consult with IDEAA. The Department of Safety and Environmental Management has an ergonomic program and can assist with such requests. Please contact the department for further assistance.

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Q) My department does not have funds to provide reasonable accommodations and it is burdensome to provide either modifications to the employee’s job duties or alter the physical structure of the work environment. Do I have to?

A) It is important in those cases to share those concerns with IDEAA as part of the interactive process. Again, financial responsibility for providing reasonable accommodations (other than barrier removal projects which require consultation with Facilities Management) belongs to the department. In some cases, if the department does not have the financial resources to provide reasonable accommodations from its budget, the dean/director/EVP may be consulted. Under the law, employers are not required to provide an accommodation to an employee or applicant if it is an undue hardship. However, in those instances, the University will make every effort to identify alternative accommodations that can meet an individual’s needs. Departments must consult with IDEAA in the event they believe that an accommodation will cause an undue hardship. Only IDEAA can determine when a requested accommodation constitutes an undue hardship.

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Q) What exactly does undue hardship mean?

A) Undue hardship means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense; one that is unduly costly, extensive, substantial, disruptive or that will fundamentally alter the nature of the job. Again, whether provision of an accommodation constitutes an undue hardship is determined on a case by case basis in consultation with IDEAA.

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Q) I have an employee, who has a disability and/or an accommodation. The employee begins to have performance problems. How should I respond?

A) You may hold all employees to the same performance and conduct standards. The existence of a disability or an accommodation does not mean an employee does not have to meet performance or attendance standards of the position. Employees with disabilities must meet the same performance standards as others doing the same kind of work. However, if an employee with a known disability is having difficulty performing a job, the manager should consult with IDEAA for guidance. If performance difficulties are not related to the employee’s ADA qualifying disability or his or her medical or religious ground for seeking the accommodation, the issue may be addressed as solely a performance problem, consistent with departmental practices/procedures, Union/collective bargaining agreements and University Human Resources policies.

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Q) I have an employee who has an accommodation and other employees ask questions about why the person is absent or why certain duties have been re-assigned. How do I handle those situations?

A) Remember that information underlying request for an accomodation is confidential. You cannot disclose the nature of an employee’s disability, religion, or medical condition to co-workers. When you are questioned by other employees, you should explain to them that it is a confidential matter that you are not at liberty to discuss with them. You may want to also reassure them that you are handling/aware of the situation and ask for their trust and discretion in discussing matters that relate only to other employees.

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Q) Are there instances where either management or IDEAA does not approve an accommodation?

A) IDEAA makes determinations, in consultation with the employee’s department and Human Resources, on a case by case basis.

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Q) An employee with a disability complains to me that other co-workers are making rude and inappropriate comments towards the employee about his or her disability. How should I respond?

A) Job applicants or employees who believe they have been treated unfairly or subjected to disparate treatment or a hostile work environment because of their disability may file a complaint of discrimination with IDEAA. Supervisors bear a particularly important responsibility to deter harassment or other inappropriate conduct. As a supervisor, you must ensure that qualified applicants are not discriminated against. You should consult with IDEAA immediately and must report the matter to the appropriate supervisor responsible for ensuring a prompt review and taking strong remedial action.

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If there are additional questions or concerns please contact IDEAA or attend one of its upcoming training programs on the ADA in the workplace.