Normally, a candidate of Pat’s caliber would win the activities director opening at the nursing home, hands down. But Pat is deaf. Yes, she can read lips. But will her hearing disability limit her capacity to understand residents who have speech impediments?
To help answer a question like this, here’s a primer on how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) impacts hiring decisions.
First, the ADA bars the employer from denying work to applicant Pat simply because her disability would interfere with future job duties. The ADA mandates the employer first review “reasonable accommodations” for the handicap.
Example: Restructuring a job, reassigning the applicant to a vacant position, offering part time or adjusted work schedules, providing personal assistants, reconfiguring existing facilities, acquiring or modifying equipment, modifying testing procedures, training materials or policies.
The employer should ask applicants to suggest possible accommodations. If litigation arises, this request shows the employer’s eagerness to work with the applicant to find all possible accommodations.
A reasonable accommodation for Pat’s hearing disability might include providing her with an assistant to act as an interpreter. The employer could still refuse Pat a job if an accommodation causes “undue hardship” to the business or organization.
Here are factors the employer should consider when deciding if an accommodation constitutes undue hardship:
- The nature and cost of an accommodation.
- The financial resources of the firm.
- The number of people employed.
- The overall impact of an accommodation on the operations.
- Perhaps the facility is part of a larger organization? The employer will also need to consider the resources of this larger organization when making the hiring decision.
Before refusing applicant Pat a job, the employer needs to be sure documentation is in good order. A paper trail is critical to a future defense against discrimination charges.
Therefore, the employer needs to summarize in writing all conversations with the applicant. Document all accommodations considered, along with the analysis of reasonableness and undue hardship. Also, keep track of the applicant’s response to these accommodations.
Most important: Focus first on “abilities,” then on a “disability.” Don’t let your surprise at discovering an applicant’s disability color your objective evaluation of whether the applicant has the needed skills to do the job.