This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act turns a quarter-century old. This makes the critical piece of legislation about as old as many of the millennials and recent graduates who are entering the workforce who depend on the ADA for important legal protections.
Like many pieces of legislation, the ADA has undergone changes in the two-and-a-half decades since it was enacted. So too has the workforce experienced similar changes in composition, demographic and operational procedures. What impact has the ADA had on employers over the past 25 years, and how is the law poised to continue to affect companies moving forward?
The undeniable impact of the ADA
Enacted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act had a significant impact on workplace equality concerning employees with physical or mental disabilities. The act offers protection from discrimination for disabled employees. Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of the ADA is its requirement that employers provide meaningful accommodation for eligible employees.
This important provision paves the way for disabled employees to be viewed by companies as an asset rather than a detriment. Reasonable accommodation, which can take the form of a reduced workload, more flexible hours, necessary assistive equipment or any number of other requests that could assist employees, helps workers with disabilities showcase their strengths rather than having coworkers and managers simply see their weaknesses.
The future of the ADA
Despite the great strides made in employment equality thanks to the ADA and similar legislation, there is always more work to be done. Much of the future development of the law will be shaped by unique circumstances that have just begun to arise.
For example, as the baby boomer generation - the most populous age demographic in the U.S. - creeps closer toward the senior years, employers will need to think about age-related accommodation on a scale that they may not have experienced before.
Moving forward, employers will need to ensure they have a firm handle on how to balance their needs for reliable staff with their legal obligation under the ADA, especially as far as reasonable accommodation is concerned. In addition to providing accommodation and balancing employee versus employer obligations, there is a significant HR services workload that ADA compliance requires - for example, managing the reporting and determination of which employees qualify as disabled under the act. Fortunately, PEO companies can help small-business owners navigate the otherwise complicated legal morass of ever-changing legislation without executives having to pay to maintain in-house HR solutions.