ADA Blog


ADA Blog #56

By now, I think most employers know they cannot refuse to hire, promote or fire an employee solely based on their disability. But, what about your employees, who don’t have a disability themselves, but are associated with those who do? I’m talking about people who have a child, spouse or any other dependent with a disability. It doesn’t even have to be a blood or family relationship. Do employers have any ADA responsibilities to guard against potential discrimination? Yes. If the basis of an employment decision is the relationship, there may be an ADA violation.

When you base adverse employment decisions on unfounded concerns & assumptions about the known disability with whom the applicant or employee has a relationship or association, you increase your risk of acting in a discriminatory manner. What does this all mean?

During the hiring process, the manager finds out that the applicant's spouse has cancer. You can’t decide not to hire the applicant just because of a fear that healthcare expenses will go up. Or, you can’t refuse to hire an applicant who has a child with a disability because you assume that she/he will be distracted at work, away from work excessively or be otherwise unreliable.

This means you can’t fire an employee who works with people who are HIV-positive or have AIDS because of unfounded beliefs you have about how HIV/AIDS is contracted or you assume that the employee will contract the disease or you believe that your company’s image will be tarnished.

This means that it’s unlawful to deny or reduce an employee’s health care coverage available to others because the employee’s spouse, child or other dependent has a disability and you believe the association is expensive causing increased insurance premiums.

The ADA specifically says that employees, who don’t have a disability, are not entitled to reasonable accommodation just because they are associated with disabled individuals. The ADA would not require an employer to modify its leave policy for an employee who needs time off to care for a child with a disability. But other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), may be applicable and the employee may be entitled to leave.

You can’t stop people from filing a complaint when they experience adverse employment actions; but if challenged, you need a good answer to the question, "why did you take the adverse action?" If you are aware of an employee who has a relative with a disability, make sure that the actions you’re taking are not based on unfounded fears that the dependent’s condition will have a negative impact on the employee’s performance. Employers of choice are very clear about reasons for termination. They make sure these reasons are legitimate, non-discriminatory & well-documented. Adverse employment decisions focus on employee performance, rather than on unfounded fears and concerns and assumptions. Remember: a key organizational goal is to recruit and hire the best employees possible. The ADAAA doesn’t require employers to hire unqualified candidates; it requires all employers to do what most good employers do already: reduce the barriers to success.


This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.