When Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), it left a lot open to interpretation. And interpret it is just what the Supreme Court has done.
The court handed down four decisions regarding the ADA this year. Two rulings-Barnes v. Gorman and U.S. Airways v. Barnett-apply to state and local governments and unionized employers, respectively. In Toyota v. Williams, the court further defined disability by finding that an individual seeking ADA coverage-in this case, for carpal tunnel syndrome-must show the impairment substantially limits everyday activities. In Chevron v. Eschazbal, the court ruled that a company may refuse to hire a person with a disability if the job could worsen the condition.
"In Chevron, the court made a statement that companies shouldn't have to risk violating OSHA," says Condon A. McGlothlen, partner and chair of the ADA taskforce at law firm Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. "It's not a green light to [use] screening devices, but it gives employers breathing room."
Stay the course, advises Richard J. Reibstein, a partner in the Employment Practices Services at law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen LLP in New York City. Overall, he predicts, these decisions will have little effect, because as a small employer, you have to contend with state and local laws that can be more protective of employees.
Continue to do your best to accommodate the disabled, Reibstein says. Document all reasonable accommodation discussions, and be clear about job requirements. "Don't change anything," he says. "There's more than one layer of regulation."