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Association Discrimination under the ADA

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 6/16/2008
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One of my employees has requested a modified work schedule to care for his wife, who was rendered paraplegic by an automobile accident. Am I required to provide such an accommodation under the "association discrimination" provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act? 

No. In addition to prohibiting discrimination against qualified individuals with a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibits discrimination against an individual because of his or her association with a disabled person. Specifically, the ADA's "association discrimination" provision makes it unlawful for a covered employer to exclude or otherwise deny "equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association." This provision is intended to protect any qualified individual, with or without a disability, from discrimination because that person is known to have an association or relationship with an individual who has a known disability. This protection is not limited to those who have a familial relationship with an individual with a disability.

To illustrate the scope of this provision, the regulations interpreting the ADA provide the example of a qualified applicant without a disability who discloses that his or her spouse has a disability. The employer thereupon declines to hire the applicant because the employer believes that the applicant would frequently have to leave work early or miss work entirely to care for the spouse. Such a refusal to hire would be prohibited by this provision. However, though employers are prohibited from discriminating because of such an association, employers are not required to provide a reasonable accommodation for an applicant or an employee without a disability because that duty applies only to qualified applicants or employees with disabilities. Thus, in this situation, the employee would not be entitled to a modified work schedule or any accommodation enabling him to care for his spouse.

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