The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protects employees and job seekers throughout the country from discrimination, harassment, and other acts because of a disability. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations that can allow employees with disabilities to perform their job duties. New Jersey employment law also protects against disability discrimination and mandates reasonable accommodations. In July 2023, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an updated guidance document regarding visual disabilities under the ADA. In addition to reasonable accommodations, the document addresses what employers may and may not ask employees and job applicants with regard to visual impairments.
Visual Disabilities Under the ADA
The ADA’s definition of “disability” involves conditions that “substantially limit one or more major life activities,” as well as a record or perception of having such a condition. The definition of “major life activities” includes “seeing.”
The EEOC takes a broad view of whether a visual impairment meets the “substantially limits” standard. If someone’s vision is “substantially limited when compared to the vision of most people in the general population,” it will consider that person to have a disability as defined by the ADA. This does not, however, include people who are able to function with “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses.”
Guidelines for Employers, Employees, and Job Applicants
The EEOC’s guidance addresses each of the following issues:
Vision tests are “medical examinations” as defined by the ADA. Employers may not require such exams unless they are directly related to and necessary for an individual’s job
Reasonable Accommodations for Visual Disabilities
Employers must make reasonable accommodations for visual disabilities, which might include:
– Written materials that use large print or braille;
– Text-to-speech or similar software;
– Magnifiers; or
– Adjustments of light levels.
Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation
The EEOC’s guidance reiterates that discrimination and harassment based on visual disabilities is unlawful. Employers must respond promptly to reports, and they may not retaliate against employees who report alleged violations or request reasonable accommodations.
Medical Inquiries for Job Applicants
Employers may not ask about visual impairments until they have extended an offer of employment. At that point, they may ask about the applicant’s ability to perform the duties of the job, either with or without accommodations. This rule does not apply if the disability is obvious or the applicant discloses it. Applicants do not have to disclose visual disabilities during the application process unless they are requesting a reasonable accommodation.
Medical Inquiries for Employees
Employers may ask current employees about visual disabilities if they have reason to believe that an employee has a condition that affects their ability to do their job. This might involve job performance issues that are consistent with impaired vision. All information obtained from employees from such questions must remain confidential.
The ADA allows employers to make individual assessments of employees when they reasonably suspect that the employee poses a danger to workplace safety because of a visual disability, and that no reasonable accommodation will lower the risk. This might apply in jobs that involve construction or hazardous materials.
Employers that violate employees’ rights under federal or state law might owe damages for the harm they cause to those employees. If you believe that an employer has violated your rights, you need a knowledgeable and experienced employment lawyer on your side. The Resnick Law Group advocates for employees and job seekers in New Jersey and New York in numerous types of employment claims. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.