By John Zamora, M.S., CDMS

Essential Functions of the Job and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Question: I can’t see well enough to do my job any more. What are my legal rights?

This depends on whether your vision loss is directly work-related. If it is, your employer may be liable to assist you with related financial, medical, and vocational issues. If there is no direct work-related cause, your employer is not as clearly obligated. However, in either case, the primary issue is this: If you want to keep your job, it will depend on whether you’re still able to do the “essential functions of the job” for which you are responsible.

Discuss your concerns with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor from your state agency for the disabled, blind or visually impaired, and learn as much as you can about The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

  • The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
  • Title 1 of ADA makes it unlawful for any employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee because of a disability in any aspect of employment. ADA Title I covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.
  • Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act provides the same protections for federal government employees and applicants. In addition, most states have their own laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of disability. Some of these state laws may apply to smaller employers and provide additional protections to those available under the ADA.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. The EEOC website provides a series of Questions and Answers about Blindness and Vision Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act that address the following issues:

  • Under what circumstances an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about a vision impairment;
  • What types of “reasonable accommodations” employees with visual disabilities may require;
  • How an employer can prevent harassment of employees with visual disabilities or any other disability.

ADA states that employers cannot prevent an individual from maintaining his or her job if the individual can perform the “essential functions” of that job. The employer is required to provide “reasonable accommodations” that allow the employee to perform his or her job effectively.

In some instances, the employer may contend that the provision of work place adjustments would be too costly, or provide “undue hardship” for his/her business or organization; in most situations, however, the employee can resolve these issues by learning about appropriate resources that will provide information and, in some cases, financial assistance.

You can learn more about your rights by requesting a copy of the ADA Law (Public Law 101-336-July 26, 1990–104 STAT. 327-378) from the Department of Labor or by contacting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-ADA.