ADA & Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Achieving Safe Passage Through the ‘Minefield’

How do you make the Americans with Disabilities Act clear? Have a former DOL insider reduce its complexity to universal understandings.

When Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there likely was little thought that anyone would call the law a “minefield.” Yet that’s just how ABC News reporter John Stossel described ADA in reporting on how the law affects employers.

It’s easy to see why. From an employers’ standpoint, the Americans with Disabilities Act is filled with “plastic explosives.” “Plastic” because key definitions, such as “reasonable accommodation,” are so flexible they can look different on every context. “Explosive” because one compliance misstep can launch a lawsuit that can reduce an employer to rubble. “Lawyers are ready to pounce,” Stossel said of ADA.

That, of course, begs the question of whether anyone can provide safe passage. One place it’s offered is BLR’s The Complete Guide to ADA Compliance. Since first publication, the Guide has been lauded by HR professionals for its clarity and completeness. We were curious about how the editors managed to achieve it.

‘Translated’ by a government insider

One reason it works, many think, is it was written by an insider. Attorney/author Susan Schoenfeld knows how to translate governmental legalese into plain English because, before joining BLR, she did her lawyering for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Labor.

What Schoenfeld did was reduce ADA to its granular level, finding universals that apply in virtually all situations. Her explanation of “reasonable accommodation,” for example, is not based on any particular job because it’s likely to mean something different in every setting. Instead it’s built around the applicant. A reasonable accommodation is whatever it takes, she says, “for a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for a position.”

Her explanations feature numerous examples. The law permits a disabled worker to request an ADA accommodation, but the request need not be in those terms to be legal. Instead, a worker may simply say, “I can’t get to work on time because of medical treatments.” “This,” Schoenfeld explains, “is a request for a reasonable accommodation.”

Charts show ADA’s interplay with FMLA and workers’ comp

A key issue is ADA’s interplay with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and workers’ compensation. What does each law have to say about common employment situations? The editors answer this through charts that list such items as “Posting Requirements” or “Attendance Policies,” and then show, side –by side, what each law says about them. Readers get a complete picture in a single glance.

With model policies, forms, and checklists, and a complete set of ADA regulations and guidance memos included, the book totals nearly 400 pages. According to its creators, every one of the pages is needed to provide a complete picture of how to comply.

“If you are crossing a minefield,” asked one editor, “wouldn’t you want to be told how to do it, step –by step?”