Employer responsibilities under the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits job discrimination against people with disabilities. Employers need to know if they have responsibilities under the ADA.

What employers are covered

The ADA covers:

  • Private employers or employment agencies with 15 or more employees
  • State and local governments

The ADA also covers:

  • Labor organizations
  • Labor management committees
  • Employment agencies

What parts of employment are covered

Employers cannot discriminate in any part of the employment process, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Interviewing
  • Hiring
  • Training
  • Promotion
  • Firing
  • Benefits
  • Job assignments
  • Pay
  • Employee gatherings and activities

The ADA also prohibits employers from retaliating or taking negative action against an applicant or employee for using the ADA to protect their rights.

Who is protected 

You must meet two requirements to be protected in employment. 

Requirement 1: The disability requirement

A person has a disability if their condition makes it difficult to do everyday things like:

  • Hear
  • See
  • Speak
  • Focus
  • Sleep
  • Walk
  • Breathe

Learn more about how the ADA defines a person with a disability

Requirement 2: The "job qualifications" and “essential job functions” requirement

The individual with a disability must have the required education, employment experience, licenses, and other qualifications that are job-related


They must be able to do the tasks that are essential to the job (called essential job functions), with or without reasonable accommodation.

Essential functions 

Essential functions are the basic job duties or tasks that an employee has to perform. An employee can use a reasonable accommodation to do the task. You should think about the job carefully before deciding which duties are necessary. 

Some factors that can help you decide if a job duty is an essential function:

  • Does the position exist to perform that function?
  • Are there other employees to perform the function? 
  • How much expertise or skill does it take to perform the function?
  • Have past employees in this position performed this function?
  • How much time will the employee spend doing this function?

Essential job functions do not necessarily match what is written in the job description, although it is one of the factors.

Reasonable accommodations

Some individuals may need a reasonable accommodation to apply for a job, to perform their job duties, or to participate in the activities that other employees enjoy. 

A reasonable accommodation is a change or adjustment to a job or work environment. 


  • Buying or modifying equipment or technology
  • Allowing a modified work schedule
  • Providing an interpreter
  • Providing text-to-speech or speech-to-text software
  • Relocating the employee’s workspace 
  • Restructuring a person’s job

Learn more about accommodations from the Job Accommodation Network.

When choosing what accommodation to provide, you should ask the employee what would help them perform the essential functions of the job. For a job candidate, you should ask what would help them in the application process.

Your responsibilities

You are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and potential employees with disabilities unless it would be an undue hardship. Undue hardship means very difficult or expensive. 

Factors in deciding undue hardship

  • Cost and nature of the accommodation requested
  • The employer's size, budget, financial resources
  • The nature and structure of the employer’s operation
  • The impact of the accommodation on the business operations

Even if you decide a specific accommodation is an undue hardship, you still have to try to find another accommodation that is reasonable. 

Helpful resources

Ask us

If you have questions about your responsibilities as an employer, contact us.

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