BUSINESS LAW: ADA and family members with disabilities

2012-09-30T00:00:00Z BUSINESS LAW: ADA and family members with disabilitiesJames Jorgensen Times Business Columnist
September 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

We have often discussed the far-reaching impact of the Americans With Disabilities Act. A recent case highlighted one of the few restrictions on its scope.

The issue is whether the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations (typically in adjusting work schedules) to an employee so she can care for a disabled parent or child.

The answer to a related question is "yes." The ADA prohibits "associational discrimination." In other words, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee because of the known disability of an individual with whom the employee has a relationship or association (i.e., family member).

For example, an employer cannot fire an employee because it fears the employee will miss too much time caring for a family member with cancer. Similarly, that same employee cannot be fired because the employer fears its insurance rates will increase because the employee's family member has cancer.

However, the ADA does not require the employer to provide reasonable accommodations to care for the family member with the disability. Consider these facts:

An employee in a small office (the number of employees just met the ADA's requirement of 15 for employer coverage) had a disabled daughter. On the weekends, the employee would bring her daughter home from an assisted living facility. The employee was only one of two employees who could take turns working on Saturdays. She refused to work every other weekend because of her daughter's condition. The employee also took unexpected time off to care for her daughter.

The employee was eventually terminated. A court upheld the employer's decision. The employer did not violate the ADA by refusing the employee’s request for reasonable accommodations (no weekend work, flexible time off during the week, etc.). The ADA does not require employers to reasonably accommodate employees who do not themselves have a disability.

Opinions are solely the writer's. James Jorgensen practices law at Hoeppner Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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