American Disabilities Act

Kacy Hagerty: Well, what happens at work if you can’t do the job at hand? Better Nashville’s Jennifer Herron is sitting down with Atty. Jim Higgins to explain your rights outlined in the ADA.

Jennifer Herron: So, Mr. Higgins is going to help us today determine the American Disabilities Act and who is working for when the business is in the right or maybe when the employee is in the right, because there are certain times where it’s a little bit of hassle, right, the stretch over and, you know...

Jim Higgins: Yes.

Jennifer Herron: ...about the employee with their disability.

Jim Higgins: It can be and that is what we’ve seen in a lot of our cases. We have an employment law section in our office and they deal with a lot of disability cases. It’s important to know first who the Act applies to. It applies with anybody with more than 15 employees and it applies to people who have (aged and own) disability. What the Act requires is for the employer to make a reasonable accommodation and that is kind of hard to define sometimes. There’s a split in the cases as to what is reasonable.

But, it’s something that shouldn’t be too much of a hardship on the employer, whether it might be a magnifying screen for a person’s computer with a sight disability, something simple like that is usually something that the court is going to say, “Hey, if you just provide this little thing for a person, they can do the job and earn a living.” So, that would be a reasonable accommodation.

Jennifer Herron: Now, I wonder if they can’t do their particular position, but they would like to apply for another position.

Jim Higgins: Well, a lot of the times that happens when an employee develops disability while at work. Maybe they came in without disability, but something happens, heart attack or whatever it might be that affects their daily life. Now, if they can’t do their old job, the employer doesn’t have to create a new position for him. Of course, they also don’t have to let someone go, so this person can have the position. So, again, all of the cases get back to, “Was it reasonable?”

Jennifer Herron: Now, what would a person have to document on the job maybe before they came to a lawyer and said, “Hey, this is what I think is happening to me on the job. They aren’t, you know, working with me and all.” What kind of things do we need to make note of?

Jim Higgins: Well, if - when everybody comes in nowadays, what I get more than anything are emails and it is a great way to get a timeline as to how your case developed. So, normally, if someone calls me and they’re saying, “Hey, I want my employer just to let me work downstairs instead of upstairs. I can’t, with my disability, get upstairs,” and, then, the more they won’t do it.

And, I usually will tell those people, “Well, you’re too quick to call me. You know, ask them.” And, I would ask them in an email and that way you’re going to have a proof that you’ve done it. They may provide that accommodation and then they have no need for a lawyer.

Jennifer Herron: Now, what compensation usually comes out of a case like this?

Jim Higgins: It come very greatly on a case. There are some cases where people say, “I just don’t want to go back and work for that employer, because of the way they treated me.” In general, a court can give you back pay and that would be if you lost your job, the money that you lost out on while you aren’t able to work and they can give you front pay if you’re still not working. But, they - it’s not going to go out forever. It’s not going to go out for the rest of your life. It may go out for a year or two years.

Jennifer Herron: Any other advice you have for anybody dealing with the American Disabilities Act?

Jim Higgins: Well, you know, I think a lot of people fear the Act and they really don’t need to, it doesn’t require you to do anything extraordinary. It’s just to treat people with disabilities that can do the job the same as you would treat anybody. You don’t have to give them preferential treatment or treat them - you don’t have to treat them more, you just treat them the same.

Kacy Hagerty: The Higgins Firm is serving Tennessee. Call them at 615-353-0930. For more information and a link to their website, just go to betternashville.com.