What Are Your Rights?
Moving from campus to career as a veteran with a disability
What is disability, anyway?
Disability can mean different things to different people. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), disability means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A wide range of medical conditions “count” as a disability. Some of these are obvious to others (such as needing to use a wheelchair, having impaired movements, or missing a limb). Others are less obvious (such as post-traumatic stress injury, traumatic brain injury, or depression). Generally, an impairment needs to be permanent or long-term to be considered a disability under the ADA.
Laws and rights
The main law that prohibits discrimination against veterans (and others) with disabilities in private employment is the ADA. In federal employment, the Rehabilitation Act provides the same protections. Veterans have rights under these laws whether or not their disability is service-connected. These rights apply during the hiring process and when you’re employed.
Two main rights
The ADA covers employment and other areas of life, such as accessibility of buildings, facilities, and businesses. The ADA protects veterans (and others) with disabilities from employment discrimination in several ways. The two main protections against employment discrimination for veterans (and others) with disabilities have to do with disclosure (telling the employer about your disability) and accommodation (adjustments that allow you to do your job with a disability).
Your choice—telling an employer about a disability
In most cases, the ADA protects your right to choose if and when you tell an employer about your disability. When you apply for a job, you don’t have to tell the employer about your disability and the employer is not allowed ask. Once you are employed, your employer can’t ask you if you have a disability, except in a few situations. If you need an accommodation at any point during the employment process, you can tell your employer and ask for what you need, even if you didn't tell your employer about your disability when you interviewed or first started a position.
When can an employer ask me about my disability?
Once you’re hired, there are a few situations where your employer can ask you some things about your disability:
- First, once you’ve been offered a job, but before you start work, your employer might ask you to undergo a medical exam which might show that you have a disability.
- Second, if you need an accommodation to do your job, your employer might want more information about your disability.
- Third, if your employer has objective evidence that a disability might keep you from doing your job well and safely, they can require some medical information.
In all three of the above situations, your disability information can’t be shared with co-workers.
- Finally, some employers are required by federal law to collect information about the number of job applicants and employees who have disabilities. This information is voluntary and anonymous, so it is never shared with your co-workers or boss.
(For more about disclosure, see Tool 4.)
The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations to applicants and employees with disabilities. Accommodations are modifications or adjustments to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done. Simply put, they allow a person with a disability to approach work in a different way. Here are some examples:
- A veteran with traumatic brain injury who is a customer support representative uses a checklist to make sure she has completed all parts of a customer interaction.
- A veteran with PTSI is an engineer and has an office in a quieter part of the building to avoid sudden loud noises.
- A veteran who is missing a hand uses a special keyboard and speech-to-text technology to do written work.
(For more about accommodations, go to Tool 7.)
Which employers must comply with the ADA?
Generally, employers with 15 or more employees must comply with the ADA. But state laws can apply too, and in some states, this number is lower. For example, in New York, all employers with four or more employees must comply with state laws covering disability and employment.