The Americans with Disabilities Act in the Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act, known universally as the ADA, prohibits discrimination in employment hiring or opportunities on the basis of an applicant’s or employee’s disability. If you have been denied a reasonable accommodation for your disability, or you think your employer has retaliated against you for asserting your rights under the ADA, you should consult an employment attorney in the Raleigh-Durham area who can help. Call Miller Law Group for answers to all of your ADA questions today.

The History of the Americans with Disability Act

The ADA, signed into law in July 1990, was a watershed event for disability rights. Before its passage, no law forbade discrimination against people with disabilities. At the hearings preceding the Senate’s votes on the law, dozens of witnesses spoke of their experiences: A Vietnam veteran paralyzed during the war described his difficulties in leaving his home and finding a job; a woman with cerebral palsy talked about being denied entrance to a movie theater because of her condition; a woman who had survived breast cancer talked about losing her job because of the disease and being unable to find another employer because she was a person with cancer; parents of a small child who died of AIDS described their struggle to find an undertaker to bury their child. The ADA—modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964—made all of these discriminatory acts illegal.

Title I of the ADA and the Protection it Grants to the Disabled

Title I of the ADA focuses on employment. Defining “disability” broadly, as any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” Title I requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to disabled applicants or employees who are fully qualified—with or without accommodation—to perform the essential functions of the job. An amendment, passed in 2008, further broadened the understanding of disability, in response to Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the law’s applicability.

Now, the ADA is generally understood to require employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to allow employees (or potential employees) to work. A reasonable accommodation is one that does not cause “undue hardship” to the employer. Whether a requested accommodation causes undue hardship depends on how expensive and difficult it is in relation to the employer’s resources and the nature of the business.

Even if the accommodation an employee requests would clearly cause an undue hardship, the employer is not free to fire the employee or ignore the request. Instead, the employer must try to identify another, less burdensome accommodation or allow the individual requesting the disability to pay for the accommodation, if cost is the issue.


When an employee requests an accommodation, the employer is obligated to engage in what the EEOC calls “an interactive process” to define the employee’s limits and design effective accommodations. That process does not end with the granting of an accommodation. Rather, the employer must continue communicating with the employee and may require ongoing updates as part of the process. Where the employer knows an employee is struggling, the employer may initiate a conversation about whether an accommodation is working and what further accommodations might be needed.

Ideally, the end point of this process is a happy, productive employee and a satisfied employer.

But the process can go wrong. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against based on a disability, wrongfully denied a reasonable accommodation, or retaliated against for requesting an accommodation, you need to talk to a lawyer. If your ADA rights have been violated, contact one of our experienced employment attorneys in Raleigh who can help you get the justice you deserve. 

We’re ready to help you at Miller Law Group.