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Mainers with disabilities who are looking for work should know their rights

As many people know, it is tough to be unemployed and looking for work particularly in times of high unemployment when you have to compete against more people for fewer jobs. For people with disabilities, it can be even more stressful because they are not sure if an employer will treat them differently because they have a disability or will unwilling to accommodate their disability. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published guidance to help people with disabilities who are looking for work.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is similar in many respects to the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA), before an employer offers you a job, it may not ask you if you have a disability or require you to undergo a medical examination. Some examples of prohibited questions during this pre-offer stage of the hiring process are:

  • How many days were you sick last year?
  • Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation?
  • Have you ever been injured on the job?
  • What prescription drugs are you currently taking?

For applicants with unobservable disabilities, such as epilepsy, HIV, or heart disease, these prohibitions on medical inquiries help to protect you from discrimination. Moreover, even if you do not have a disability, an employer would violate your rights if it asked you these questions and then refused to hire you because of your answer.

The ADA and MHRA also require employers to provide applicants who have disabilities with a reasonable accommodation, if one is necessary, in order to go through the hiring process. For instance, some employers require applicants to take a test to determine the applicant’s suitability for the job. If an applicant has a learning disability, he may need more time to take the test and an employer may have to provide that additional time as a reasonable accommodation.

Once an employer offers you a job, it may require you to undergo a medical examination to determine if you are capable of performing the job. If you have a disability, and you can perform the job provided you receive a reasonable accommodation, the employer must accommodate you. For instance, if you use a wheelchair and you need an office with a wide door so you can get in and out of it, an employer may have to provide you with that accommodation.

If an employer has refused to hire you because of a medical reason or because of a response you gave to a medical inquiry, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer for advice.