Nov 062012
Disabled workers use wheelchairs on the job.

Many disabled workers rely on wheelchairs to become mobile. Photo by dream designs/

Some disabled workers depend on coworkers to fulfill their job duties, according to some people. Could this be labeled a burden?

Recently, a story about a disabled worker being fired from her job due to her disability hit the news . It raised numerous questions not only with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law, but also with the rights of her coworkers.

Patricia Clayton, the disabled worker and wife of John Clayton (NFL sportswriter and senior writer/reporter for ESPN), was terminated from her temporary elections position.

Reports state the reason for her termination was from being a “burden” to her coworkers. Clayton has multiple sclerosis (MS) which forces her to use a wheelchair. While this claim appears insensitive to most people, it may actually be valid.

Although health care professionals encourage disabled individuals to keep active in the workforce, their limitations should be taken into consideration and understood before job placement.

The ADA calls for reasonable accommodations from the employer for disabled workers, such as wheelchair accessible venues. It is when that person cannot fulfill the job description with these accommodations that it may become a burden to the coworkers (i.e., asking a coworker to retrieve files).

If disabled people need help to do their jobs, usually the tasks fall on coworkers. This scenario may be considered an “undue hardship” (burden) on the coworkers. Therefore, the burden may be viewed as an infringement on the rights of the non-disabled workers.

Does the law also protect the rights of the non-disabled workers? Should coworkers be responsible for the disabled worker’s limitations?

Most people are more than willing to help their coworkers when needed; it’s called ‘teamwork.’ But they should not be expected to take on additional tasks for any coworker, including a disabled coworker.

ADA prohibits discrimination in the workforce based on an individual’s disability. This Act defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Disabled workers who believe their employer discriminated against them have options. They can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Highlights of ADA for disabled workers

* Employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. For the first two years after July 26, 1992, the date when the employment provisions of the ADA go into effect, only employers with 25 or more employees are covered.

* Employers must reasonably accommodate the disabilities of qualified applicants or employees, unless an undue hardship would result.

* Employers may reject applicants or fire employees who pose a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace.

* Applicants and employees are not protected from personnel actions based on their current illegal use of drugs. Drug testing is not affected.

* Employers may not discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee because of the known disability of an individual with whom the applicant or employee is known to have a relationship or association.

* Religious organizations may give preference in employment to their own members and may require applicants and employees to conform to their religious tenets.

* Complaints may be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Available remedies include back pay and court orders to stop discrimination.