Happy Birthday ADA! A Brief History of the Law Through the Years

July 2014 marks the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which was signed into law this month in 1990. The ADA, and the corresponding Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) both “prohibit discrimination and guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.”

History of the ADA and ADAAA

Recognizing that people with disabilities faced challenges in their everyday lives, in 1988 congress took upon the task to implement a law promoting equality in all aspects of life for individuals with qualified disabilities. Problems such as a lack of access to acceptable health care and simple access to physical structures were issues that the law sought to address. On July 26, 1990, the ADA was passed into law.

Disability rights reform did not begin with the passage of the ADA however. As far back as 1973, there has been a federal law prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities (the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). The Rehabilitation Act is the law on which the ADA and ADAAA are based. The most significant aspect of the Rehabilitation Act was Section 504, which identified individuals with disabilities as a minority class subject to protection and increased scrutiny in discrimination actions.

After many hours of debate and testimony, the ADA was passed in July 1990. The law as it went into effect guaranteed that people with disabilities would have the right to continue to seek and maintain work and access to housing and physical structures. However, in 2008 the ADA was amended. Among the important changes to the law was the expansion of the definition of the term “disabled,” making it easier for individuals to prove that they have a disability and are entitled to the protections of the ADA.

Disability Discrimination Today

Despite the protections afforded by the ADA and its subsequent amendments, disability discrimination persists today. In fact, this type of discrimination is one of the more common forms of employment discrimination in today’s workforce. Employers must be reminded that discrimination or retaliation of any form based on disability is against the law, and it is important to educate managers about aspects of disability discrimination so that it can be prevented.

What is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she has a disability.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to employees or applicants with disabilities, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer ("undue hardship").

What Employers Can Do to Prevent Disability Discrimination

  1. Non-Discrimination Policy
    Ensure that a non-discrimination policy is in place and that it is clearly communicated to all employees.

  2.  Train Everyone
    Train everyone, but particularly managers and supervisors, on their duty to prevent disability discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations so qualified employees with disabilities can do their jobs.

  3. Respond Quickly and Effectively to Requests for Accommodations
    The duty to provide reasonable accommodation is triggered when requested by an individual or when an employer becomes aware of a disability-caused limitation. It is important to remember that an employee does not need to actually say the words “reasonable accommodation” for the duty to be triggered.

  4.  Document Everything!
    Document the accommodations considered, offered, accepted, and declined, as well as the justification for the steps taken. If adverse action is taken against an employee with a disability, make sure to document the non-discriminatory reasons why the action was taken and be prepare to back it up.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR Compliance Training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670.


5 Reasons Why Online Courses are a Good Choice for Ethics and Compliance Training

As an important component of an effective ethics and compliance training program, companies must find engaging and cost-effective ways to ensure employees are up to date with legal standards and organizational policies. In many ways, online training is an ideal medium for ethics and compliance training.  Here are five reasons why: 

Anytime/Anywhere Access 

Ethics and compliance is “must-have” training so ensuring that all employees have access to the training whenever they have the opportunity to complete it helps ensure full and timely compliance. Anywhere access also ensures that all employees, regardless of physical location, can take training. With near universal access to computers or tablets, online training is an ideal solution for reaching remote and/or global workers. 

Cost Effectiveness 

Online training can significantly reduce training costs. For large scale or enterprise-wide training initiatives, the cost savings are magnified as large groups of learners can be accommodated at low marginal costs. 

Consistent Content 

Centrally developed and updated content helps ensure that training material is thorough and accurate and that a consistent message is delivered to all participants. For ethics and compliance training, this is especially important.  

Automated Tracking/Auditing  

In addition to promoting an ethical and legally complaint business and work environment, being able to prove that the organization was diligent in training employees in ethics and compliance is essential for defending against allegations of negligence if violations and/or misconduct occur. Online training is automatically tracked allowing for targeted remediation, identification of non-compliance, ease of auditing. 

Engaging/Interactive Delivery 

High speed access and multimedia technologies allow for the development of engaging and interactive online training content. Depending on the subject matter, budget, and timeframe for delivery the optimal combination of rich media, ease-of-access and learner interaction can be achieved.  

Online Training Highly Effective When “Blended” with Other Forms of Training 

Perhaps online training is most effective when used in concert with, rather than in place of other traditional forms of training. Where opportunities allow other forms of training to be paired with online content in a “blended training” approach, this is highly effective for ethics and compliance topics as it allows coaches to focus on areas of concern. 


Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

What is Religious Discrimination? 

Religious discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is treated unfavorably due to his or her religious beliefs.  Legal protections against religious discrimination extend not only to widely recognized religious beliefs, but also to those who have sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.  Additionally, religious discrimination can occur when an employee or applicant is treated less favorably than someone else due to his or her marriage to a member of a particular religion or even association with a particular religious group.  Without a doubt, EEOC claims of religious discrimination in the workplace and civil lawsuits are on the rise, in part due to employers taking adverse employment action against employees who take time off to observe bona fide religious holidays.  

Can Employers Be Liable for Harassment on the Basis of Religion? 

Yes. It is illegal to harass a person on the basis of his or her religion. Harassment can include offensive remarks, degrading remarks, offensive conduct, frequent or pervasive teasing, or anything else that is so severe and pervasive that alters the terms and conditions of the working environment.   

Cadillac Dealership Required to Pay $100,000 in Religious Discrimination Case  

A Chicagoland Cadillac dealership recently agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by three Arab Muslim employees who alleged that the dealership subjected them to a hostile working environment based on their religion.  According to the federal consent decree, the dealership also must provide periodic reports to the EEOC about future discrimination complaints and must provide mandatory training to employees about discrimination in the workplace.  

The lawsuit alleged that three Arab Muslim employees were routinely subjected to offensive slurs such as “terrorist”; “Hezbollah”; and were subjected to mocking references to the way that Muslims pray.  All of the negative stereotyping was allowed to continue in the dealership for a significant amount of time before the employees filed their discrimination complaint with the EEOC (and subsequent lawsuit).  Now the dealership is facing costly penalties that could have easily been avoided.  

Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Training Essential for Preventing Hostile Working Environments 

Pretending not to know (or being oblivious to) what is going on in the work environment is unlikely to be successful when such a pervasive environment of anti-Arab comments and overtly inappropriate behavior was allowed to persist.  Managers and supervisors have a legal responsibility to respond appropriately when they learn of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. They also have an obligation to prevent retaliation against victims and witnesses.  Training managers and supervisors of their legal obligation to respond to and prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace is essential for preventing hostile work environments and defending against charges of harassment and discrimination.  

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing online Ethics and HR Compliance Training including religious harassment prevention and other anti-discrimination and harassment prevention topics. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws regarding equality and workplace diversity training. 


7 Problems with Digital Communications and What Employers
Can do to Prevent Charges of E-Harassment

The advent of smart phones and social media networks have created a whole new frontier for workplace harassment – sometimes called “e-harassment”. People can send messages or post comments instantly and surreptitiously without considering the consequences. Constant “connectivity” leaves people more vulnerable to unwanted communications and inappropriate communications can lead to complaints of sexual harassment or other forms of unlawful harassment.  All types of electronic communications including text messages, social media posts, instant messengers and e-mails pose unique problems when it comes to potential for harassment. Here are some of the issues related to high tech harassment in the workplace.  

  1. Messages are sent instantly often without proper consideration of the effect they will have. Once sent, there is no way of taking it back! 

  2. The sender doesn’t have insight into the reaction of the recipient and it is therefore more difficult to determine whether the messages are well received or unwanted.
  3. People feel compelled or emboldened to say and do things via electronic communications that they would not do in person.  

  4. With audio, video and Internet capabilities on virtually every phone, it is too easy to access or privately create graphic, intimate or personal messages. The term “sexting” has been coined to refer to the act of sending or receiving sexually explicit messages, videos, or photos.  

  5. With smart phones providing near constant access to people, these types of communications can be very intrusive and senders have little control over the circumstances in which their communications may be received.  

  6. Smart phones have blurred the lines between work and personal lives. People often use personal devices for work and work devices for personal business. Messages that are sent after-hours may be received at work and negatively affect the workplace. Texting sexually suggestive and/or explicit pictures or messages can contribute to a hostile work environment no matter when or how the messages were sent.

  7. Electronic communications leave a permanent digital footprint that can be retraced even if deleted. Sexually suggestive or otherwise inappropriate texts or e-mails provide very compelling evidence of harassment in the event of a complaint.  

What can Employers Do? 

With the number of high profile sexting cases in the news, it is clear that otherwise thoughtful and sensible people can be lured into exercising extremely poor judgment when communicating electronically. Steps should be taken to by every organization to limit the potential for liability due to e-harassment.  

1. Update Policies 

Every organization should have a clear electronic communications policy and update anti-harassment policies to make it clear that sending offensive or inappropriate communications, electronically or otherwise, is prohibited. In particular, it should be made clear that sending sexually suggestive or explicit messages or pictures via email, text message, or on social media to anyone with whom one has a work relationship is forbidden, no matter when the messages are sent – on or off the clock. 

2. Train Everyone 

Employers should train managers, supervisors and employees periodically on the appropriate use of electronic communications, including communications on social network sites and communications that take place outside of the workplace or on their own personal devices. Employees should be asked to acknowledge understanding of company policies related to electronic communications and everyone should be reminded that electronic communications leave a permanent digital footprint. As a general rule, if an employee (or supervisor) cannot see themselves defending a communication in front of their coworkers, their spouse, or a judge, they shouldn’t send it!    

3. Respond to Complaints Promptly  

All reports of e-harassment or “sexting” should be taken seriously, investigated promptly and appropriate actions taken in response.