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The ADA's Association Provision

Learn more about the ADA's Association Provision

From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Director of Services and Publications

Most people know that title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified applicants and employees with disabilities and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for those applicants and employees as well. However, not as many people are aware that the ADA also prohibits discrimination against some employees even though they do not have disabilities. This part of the ADA is called the “Association Provision.”

What is the ADA’s Association Provision?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Association Provision of the ADA prohibits employment discrimination against a person, whether or not he or she has a disability, because of his or her known relationship or association with a person with a known disability. This means that an employer is prohibited from making adverse employment decisions based on unfounded concerns about the known disability of a family member or anyone else with whom the applicant or employee has a relationship or association. The ADA does not require a family relationship for an individual to be protected by the Association Provision. The key is whether the employer is motivated by the individual's relationship or association with a person who has a disability.

The EEOC provides the following examples of actions that violate the Association Provision:

  • Refusing to hire an individual who has a child with a disability based on an assumption that the applicant will be away from work excessively or be otherwise unreliable.
  • Firing a chef who has a family member with AIDS based on the assumption that the chef will contract the disease and transmit it to customers through food.
  • Denying an employee health care coverage available to others because of the disability of an employee's dependent.

Do employers have to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee without a disability due to that person's association with someone with a disability?

No. Only qualified applicants and employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation. For example, 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. However, an employer must avoid treating an employee differently than other employees because of his or her association with a person with a disability. This means, for example, that if an employer grants leave to other similarly situated employees for care of family members without disabilities then it would be discriminatory not to grant an employee the same to care for her disabled family member. In other words, employers must give the same benefits and privileges of employment to all employees, but they do not have to give more to employees who have family members with disabilities.

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