Typically, when people think of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), they think of two parts of it: the part that protects disabled people from workplace discrimination and the part that requires buildings to take steps to be accessible to disabled people. What most people do not realize is that there is also a very important portion of the law that protects those who are in some way associated with a disabled person from being discriminated against at work because of that association.
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Who Is Protected by the Association Provision of the ADA?
The association provision makes it illegal to discriminate in the workplace against any person because of his or her known relationship or association with a person with a known disability. This does not have to be a family relationship with the disabled person, although it often will be. Covered discrimination includes refusal to hire, firing, denying promotions or other benefits, and making other adverse employment decisions. This also includes an employer denying an employee healthcare coverage available to other employees because of his or her relationship or association with a disabled person. For example, imagine it is your spouse who is living with a disability. Now imagine that your employer makes dependent health care coverage available to your co-workers, but will not allow you to add your spouse to the plan because of the disability. That is association discrimination, which is entirely illegal.
Harassment Is Also Illegal
Harassment is also covered by the association discrimination provisions of the ADA. Your employer cannot subject you to harassment because of your association with a person living with a disability. The employer is also required to ensure that other employees do not subject you to harassment.
Reasonable Accommodations Aren’t Required
Unfortunately, employers do not have to make reasonable accommodations for you if you are associated with a disabled person. So, for example, there is no requirement under the ADA that your boss give you a flexible schedule so you can care for a child with a disability. However, employers must give you the same treatment that is given to other employees. So if, for example, other employees can receive a flexible work schedule, then your employer cannot apply a different standard to you because of your association with a disabled person.
It’s also worth noting that while you may not have rights under the ADA to time off, other laws may give you similar rights. For example, if you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, then you are entitled to 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a newborn or newly adopted/fostered child (including a child with a disability). You are entitled to the same leave to care for a spouse, parent, or child with a serious health condition, which obviously would include most disabilities. You may be entitled to twice as much leave if the disabled family member is a military servicemember.
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Do you know someone who has been discriminated against because of his or her association with a disabled person? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.