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EEOC Addresses “Association” Discrimination Under the ADA

Volume 4, Issue 12
October 28, 2005

On October 17, 2005, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued enforcement guidance on a lesser known, but still important, provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that protects applicants and employees from discrimination based on their association with people with disabilities. The document, entitled "Questions and Answers about the Association Provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act," can be accessed at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/association_ada.html.

The ADA's "association" provision prohibits an employer from discriminating against an applicant or employee who has a known association with an individual with a disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). This prohibition covers hiring, firing, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. For example, an employer may not refuse to hire someone because of an unfounded fear that the individual will be excessively absent or unproductive because of the need to care for a child with a disability. The following actions would also be discriminatory under the ADA's associaton provision:

  • firing or refusing to hire someone based on concerns that the individual will acquire a condition from a family member or other individual with whom he has a relationship;
  • refusing to provide health insurance for an employee's family member with a disability when the employer generally provides health insurance for employee dependents;
  • harassing someone based on the individual's association with a person with a disability;
  • providing lesser benefits to someone who has a relationship or association with an individual with a disability than it provides to all other employees; and
  • firing, refusing to hire, or denying any benefit or privilege of employment to someone because of concern that the employer's image will be negatively affected by an applicant's or employee's association with individuals with disabilities - for example, discriminating against an employee who provides volunteer services for people with HIV/AIDS or psychiatric disabilities is prohibited.

As can be gleaned from the examples above, the purpose of the ADA's association provision is to prevent employers from taking adverse actions based on unfounded stereotypes and assumptions about individuals who associate with people who have disabilities. The provision is quite broad and does not require a family relationship for an individual to be protected. Employers should undertake efforts to make sure that its supervisors are aware of this sometimes overlooked form of unlawful of discrimination.

Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.