NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 5, 1996

The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) failed to define what a "disability" is, leaving interpretation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, other regulatory agencies and the courts. As a result, businesses are confused -- unsure when they are, or are not, complying with the law. (The ADA does list a few conditions that don't count -- transvestitism, kleptomania and pyromania, for example.)

Does an employer who dismisses an employee for missing too much time from work because of a chronic illness violate the law?

  • More than half of the 58,735 charges filed between July 1992 and December 1995 were for discharges or layoffs.
  • Only 10 percent claimed discrimination in hiring, and just over one-fourth were complaints about lack of accommodation.
  • Harassing the disabled was cited in 11 percent of the filings, even though it is not covered by the law.

Disabilities which can be hidden from employers -- such as back pain -- account for almost half of ADA complaints. On the other hand, hearing, vision and mobility problems have been cited only 14 percent of the time.

In some cases, ADA requirements conflict with other workplace laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and parts of the National Labor Relations Act. Following one law could land an employer into trouble with the other. Another problem: the EEOC tends to view complaints on a case-by-case basis, making it difficult for companies to know how the agency will judge their actions.

Source: John Merline, "Firms Still Facing Gray Areas in Disabilities Act Rules," Investor's Business Daily, March 5, 1996.


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