Disabled Persons Are Entitled To Protections In The Hiring Process
Searching for employment is a difficult process, and having a disability can sometimes make a job search even harder. In order to comply with the law and to provide disabled persons with the protections that they deserve, an employer must understand who is protected under federal and state discrimination laws, what it means to be qualified for a position, and what types of accommodations an employer may be legally required to provide.
The federal government defines a person with a disability as:
Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or who has a record of such impairment (a history of one or more major life activities being limited or an episodic but not currently manifesting impairment), or who is regarded as having such an impairment (a presumption that a person has an impairment, which may or may not be a mistaken belief).
This means that, even if a prospective employee is not disabled, he or she is entitled to protection if the employer believes that he or she has a disability. This distinction often occurs in the context of a disease which does not impact the employee’s ability to work, but the employer nonetheless refuses to hire or treats an existing employee as disabled because of the employer’s misperception about the disease. Under these circumstances, the employee is entitled to protections under federal and state law.
An impairment is considered to be disabling if it “limits a major life activity.” So, what is a major life activity? Both the federal government and Massachusetts identify several activities that fall within the definition, but neither present an exhaustive list. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes that “major life activities” can be both physical activities and major bodily functions. These activities may include, but are not limited to:
- Caring for Oneself
- Performing Manual Tasks
- Functions of Bodily Systems or Neurological Functions
Under federal and state law, an employer cannot refuse to hire a qualified person who falls within this definition of disability, so long as the person is capable of performing the essential functions of the job with or without “reasonable accommodations” We will discuss these terms in upcoming blog articles.