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Work: ADA Protections 101: Discrimination, Harrassment


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The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) provides a variety of protections in the workplace for people with a "disability" including a prohibition against  discrimination or harrassment, and provision of a reasonable accommodation when needed to do the job.

This article deals with discrimination and harrassment. For information about other aspects of the law, see the below links.

Protection Against Discrimination With Respect To Work

The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) protects against discrimination in phases of work for eligible employees who work for covered employers. For instance:

  • Hiring: 
    • A covered prospective employer cannot ask about your health condition unless it is relevant to the performance of the job.
    • If an employer knows about your health condition, the ADA permits an employer to refuse to hire you if the work poses a direct threat to your health or safety or your condition poses a direct threat to others.
  • While you are at work:
    • You cannot be discriminated against in your work load, compensation, etc.
    • Your employer must provide equal access to whatever health insurance coverage is offered to other employees.
  • Firing: You cannot be fired because of your health condition. However, you can be fired for poor performance.
  • You cannot be discriminated against for enforcing your rights under the ADA.

Proving that you've been discriminated against can be difficult. The best protection is to be pro-active and start keeping a work journal. We're not suggesting that you assume that will be discriminated against. The journal is "just in case." It does not require a lot of effort to keep.

If the use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in your state, it is not legal on a federal level and therefore may not be protected by the ADA.

If you feel you are being discriminated against, gather evidence. Then, speak with your supervisor. If that doesn't work, speak with the highest person you can reach in the Human Resource department if your employer has one. If there is no such person, speak with the head of the company. If discussion doesn't work, if you are protected by the ADA, it doesn't have to cost you money to enforce your rights. See Enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act and Enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act -- Getting Started.


  • You can avoid negative reactions from co-workers if you keep them updated about your situation. For instance, you can start by sharing information with a friend or colleague who can prepare the other people in the workplace. If there are negative reactions, try to talk it out with the person directly. Let him or her know what is happening with you so the person gets an understanding of the situation.  If that doesn't help, speak with a manager, supervisor or the HR department.  People in HR can frequently act as a buffer with other employees and can educate the other employees about what it is like for you.
  • The ADA does not prevent an employer from including a waiting period for health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions even though such clauses may adversely affect employees with disabilities more than other employees. There is limited protection against such clauses thanks to the federal law known as HIPAA

For information, see:

For information about additional legal protections at work, click here.

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