You find yourself in a position where you are having a hard time working due to a physical and or mental condition. What do you do? Is the right answer to request accommodations from your employer? Or should you be applying for social security disability benefits? There is a lot of confusion between these two federal programs. The legal analysis between the two is quite complex but when broken down to the very basic principles the Americans with Disabilities Act is a law meant to protect disabled workers from being terminated from their employment. While the social security disability insurance program is meant to provide monetary and health benefits to workers who are disabled and unable to maintain employment. The legal analysis for both programs is intricate with several requirements and exceptions. In this article, I will attempt to clarify both programs in an effort to help you determine which path you need to head down, either the ADA or social security disability insurance path.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a civil rights law that prohibits employment discrimination based upon disability. Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a medical condition that substantially impairs a major life activity. A major life activity is defined to include activities such as walking, seeing, breathing, lifting, speaking, and hearing. In order for the employee to enact protections under the ADA from their employer, they must first approach the employer with their disability and explain how their disability impairs his/her work. The employee should also request accommodation from the employer so they can continue to perform their work. The goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to provide persons with disabilities equal access to employment with the employer providing reasonable accommodations. The act is premised on the idea that an individual can work with reasonable accommodations. As long as the person can perform the essential functions of the job with only reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is generally determined by a Judge. Some reasonable accommodations may include part-time or modified work schedules; reassignment to a vacant position; modifying equipment or devices; or providing additional training materials. The major purpose of the Act is to prevent employer discrimination towards people with disabilities who can work with reasonable accommodations.
On the other hand, the social security disability insurance program is meant to provide benefits for disabled individuals who are unable to work. This program looks at not only the work you have performed within the past fifteen years but also any other work in the national economy. This program does NOT consider whether a reasonable accommodation can be made for the employee. It simply considers whether the individual, considering their functional limitations, is able to provide their past work or any other work nationwide, with no consideration as to whether the employee can be accommodated or not. Initially, it may sound like without having the “reasonable accommodation” requirement it would be easy to obtain social security disability benefits. However, that is far from the truth. It is extremely difficult to obtain social security disability benefits, mainly because you have to prove your conditions prevent you from doing any work at all. Whereas the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the employer to provide you a reasonable accommodation so that you can work.
When reviewing the social security disability program there are five steps in the process. The first step considers whether your conditions prevent you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. If you are still able to work and earn over $1,310 per month in gross wages, you will not be found disabled under the social security system. If you are unable to earn at least $1,310 in gross per month as a result of your medical condition(s) then the second step would be to determine the severity of your condition. At step two there is a requirement that your medical condition is severe in that it poses more than a minimal impact upon your ability to work. This threshold is quite low, so most people are able to get past step two in this process. The third step is to determine if your condition is severe enough to meet a medical listing. This is a list of conditions that are deemed so severe as to be automatically disabling. It is very difficult to prove your condition meets an automatic disability qualification. If you are not found to meet a listing, then the next consideration would be how your condition(s) impacts your functional abilities. Social security will determine what your residual functional capacity is or the maximum you are able to do in spite of your medical conditions. Once your functional capacity is determined, social security will then consider your claim under step four of the process. At step four they will determine if you are capable of performing any of your past relevant work in spite of your functional limitations. Past relevant work is any work you have performed within the past fifteen years as long as you worked at the position long enough to learn it and earn substantial gainful activity for that position. If you are found unable to perform your past work then social security will move on to step five to determine if there is any other work you could perform in the national economy, which exists in significant numbers, in spite of your functional limitations. As mentioned above, employer accommodations are not factored into this analysis. It is simply whether a job could be performed with certain limitations.
Of course, both programs are more involved than what has been explained above. If you have found yourself in a situation where you know you are disabled but are not sure of your rights, call us at the LaBovick Law Group for a free consultation. (561) 625-8400. We have worked with thousands of clients under both programs. We will listen to your situation and provide the best possible guidance as to the path you should be heading down, whether it’s pushing your employer to provide you reasonable accommodations for work, or whether it is obtaining monetary and health benefits through Social Security Administration. Both acts help individuals with disabilities but in very different ways. The Social Security Act provides monetary benefits to disabled individuals. ADA protects individuals with disabilities who can work with reasonable accommodations. Call us today at (561) 625-8400 and our Social Security disability attorneys can help you navigate through the federal programs available to you.