Pre-Employment: Interviews, Hiring, and Examinations

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to job applicants?

Yes. It is important to know how the ADA protects job seekers with disabilities. The employment section of the ADA (Title I) prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities. This includes job applicants.

Why is a written job description helpful in a job listing?

While written job descriptions are not required by the ADA, they can be helpful for both the employer and the employee. Written descriptions can help establish the essential functions of a job. If a written job description has been prepared in advance of advertising or interviewing applicants for a job, this will be considered as evidence, although not conclusive evidence, of the essential functions of the job.

Who is qualified for a position?

Title I of the ADA defines “qualified” to mean a person who meets the legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position that they hold or seek. If the individual is qualified to perform the essential job functions except for limitations caused by a disability, the employer must consider whether the individual could perform these functions with a reasonable accommodation.

Are accommodations required in the interview process?

Yes. When interviewing applicants, reasonable accommodations may need to be provided if an applicant requests them. A few examples of reasonable accommodations that may be provided during an interview are captioning for video calls, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, or written interview materials in different formats, like large print. An applicant cannot be denied employment based on their disability unless the disability prevents their ability to perform the essential functions of the job.

Under the ADA, can employers ask applicants to disclose a disability?

Under Title I of the ADA, generally the employer cannot make any pre-offer inquiries about a disability or the nature or severity of a disability.

However, if an applicant has a known disability that might reasonably be expected to interfere with or prevent the performance of job functions, a narrow exception allows an employer to ask the applicant to describe or demonstrate how these functions would be performed (with or without a reasonable accommodation). However, the employer still cannot ask questions about the nature, extent, or cause of the disability.

For example, an employer may ask an individual with one leg who applies for a position as a home washing machine repairman to demonstrate or to explain how, with or without reasonable accommodation, he would be able to get himself and his tools up and down basement stairs. However, the employer may not ask whether the individual lost his leg as the result of an underlying condition such as cancer.

What do other laws say about asking applicants to disclose a disability?

Under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal contractors and subcontractors may ask individuals to voluntarily identify themselves as a person with a disability on a job application form to satisfy the Section 503 requirements. Employers who request this information must observe Section 503 requirements regarding the manner in which this information is requested, used, and maintained. This includes keeping the information as a separate and confidential record, apart from regular personnel records.

A pre-employment inquiry about a disability is also allowed if required by another federal law or regulation, such as those applicable to disabled veterans and veterans of the Vietnam era. To learn more about this, you can visit the ADA National Network Employment Resource Hub page on Veterans and the ADA. You can also review the U.S. Department of Labor’s fact sheet on Employment Rights: Who Has Them and Who Enforces Them to learn more about other federal laws protecting discrimination in employment.

Want to know about the rights of people with disabilities employed by the federal government or federal contractors?

Based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in federal employment, which is covered by Section 501. The Rehabilitation Act also covers the employment practices of federal contractors under Section 503. Read the ADA National Network fact sheet on Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act Rules to learn more.

Can employers require medical examinations?

An employer may not ask or require a job applicant to take a medical examination before making a job offer. However, job offers can be conditional on the satisfactory result of a post-offer medical examination, or medical inquiry if this is required of all employees entering the same job category. A post-offer examination or inquiry does not have to be job-related and consistent with business necessity. However, if an individual is not hired because a post-offer medical examination or inquiry reveals a disability, the reason(s) for not hiring must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. Additionally, the employer must be able to show that the reasonable accommodation that would enable the individual to perform the essential job functions would result in undue hardship for the employer.

After a person starts work, a medical examination or inquiry of an employee must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. Employers may conduct employee medical examinations if:

  • There is evidence of a job performance or safety problem that they reasonably believe is caused by a medical condition.
  • Examinations are required by other federal laws.
  • An employee is returning to work following leave and the employer reasonably believes that the employee will be unable to do their job or may pose a direct threat because of a medical condition.
  • The examination is part of voluntary employee health program.

You can visit the ADA National Network FAQ page on the limitations the ADA imposes on medical examinations and inquiries about disability to learn more about this topic.

What is considered a medical examination?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a medical examination as “procedure or test that seeks information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health.” The EEOC provides several factors to consider in determining what a medical examination is. You can review their Enforcement Guidance: Pre-employment Disability-Related Questions and Medical Examinations to learn more.

Additional resources