The U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law
that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Title I of the
ADA makes it unlawful for any employer with 15 or more employees (including a
state or local government employer) to discriminate against a qualified
applicant or employee because of a disability in any aspect of employment.
In addition to protecting qualified applicants and employees with disabilities
from employment discrimination, one ADA provision – the
"association" provision -- protects applicants and employees from
discrimination based on their relationship or association with
an individual with a disability, whether or not the applicant or employee has a
The purpose of the 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.
Thus, it makes unlawful actions such as 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 an employee who works
with people who are HIV-positive or have AIDS based on the assumption that the
employee will contract the disease, or denying an employee health care coverage
available to others because of the disability of an employee's dependent.
This document explains the requirements of the ADA's association provision and
provides examples of how it applies to these and other employment situations.
1. What is the association provision of
the ADA and to whom does it provide protection?
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.
2. How close does the association or
relationship with a person with a disability have to be for an individual to be
protected by the association provision?
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.
Example A: An
employer overhears an employee mention to a co-worker that he tutors children at
a local homeless shelter. The employer, recalling that the shelter in
question is well-known for providing job placement assistance for people living
with HIV/AIDS, terminates the employee because it believes that its image will
be tarnished if its employees associate with the "kind of person" who
contracts HIV/AIDS. The employer has violated the ADA's association
provision even if the employee is only minimally acquainted with beneficiaries
of the shelter who have HIV/AIDS, because it made an adverse employment decision
based on concerns about the disabilities of people with whom the employee has an
3. What types of employer conduct does the
association provision prohibit?
- An employer may not terminate or refuse to hire someone
due to that person's known association with an individual with a disability.
Example B: An
employer is interviewing applicants for a computer programmer position.
The employer determines that one of the applicants, Arnold, is the best
qualified, but is reluctant to offer him the position because Arnold
disclosed during the interview that he has a child with a disability.
The employer violates the ADA if it refuses to hire Arnold based on its
belief that his need to care for his child will have a negative impact on
his work attendance or performance.
A restaurant owner discovers that the chef's boyfriend is HIV-positive.
The owner, fearing that the employee will contract the disease and transmit
it to the customers through food, terminates the employee. This is a
violation of the ADA's association provision.
- An employer may not deny an employee who has an
association with a person with a disability a promotion or other
opportunities for advancement due to that association.
Tiffany, a part-time salesperson at a large appliance store, applies for a
full-time position. The manager hiring for the position rejects
Tiffany's application because, having heard that Tiffany's mother and sister
had breast cancer, he concludes that Tiffany is likely to acquire the same
condition and be unable to reliably work the hours required of a full-time
salesperson. This is a violation of the association provision of the
- An employer may not make any other adverse employment
decision about an applicant or employee due to that person's association
with a person with a disability.
Example E: The
president of a small company learns that his administrative assistant,
Sandra, has a son with an intellectual disability. The president is
uncomfortable around people with this type of disability and decides to
transfer Sandra to a position in which he will have less contact with her to
avoid any discussions about, or interactions with, Sandra's son.
He transfers her to a vacant entry-level position in the mailroom which pays
less than Sandra's present position, but will allow him to avoid interacting
with her. This is a violation of the ADA's association provision.
- An employer may not deny an employee health care
coverage available to others because of the disability of someone with whom
the employee has a relationship or association.
Example F: An
employer who provides health insurance to the dependents of its employees
learns that Jaime, an applicant for a management position, has a spouse with
a disability. The employer determines that providing insurance to
Jaime's spouse will lead to increased health insurance costs. The
employer violates the ADA if it decides not to hire Jaime based on the
increased health insurance costs that will be caused by his wife's
Example G: In
the previous example, it would also violate the ADA for the employer to
offer Jaime the position without the benefit of health insurance for his
dependents. The employer may not reduce the level of health insurance
benefits it offers Jaime because his wife has a disability; nor may it
subject Jaime to different terms or conditions of insurance.
- An employer may not deny an employee any other benefits
or privileges of employment that are available to others because of the
disability of someone with whom the employee has a relationship or
A company has an annual holiday party for the children of its
employees. The company president learns that one of its newly hired
employees, Ruth, has a daughter with Down Syndrome. Worried that
Ruth's daughter will frighten the other children or make people
uncomfortable, he tells Ruth that she may not bring her daughter to the
party. Ruth has been denied the benefits and privileges of employment
available to other employees due to her association with a person with a
- An employer may not subject someone to harassment based
on that person's association with a person with a disability. An
employer must also ensure that other employees do not harass the individual
based on this association.
Martin and his supervisor, Adam, have had an excellent working
relationship, but Adam's behavior toward Martin has changed since Adam
learned that Martin's wife has a severe disability. Although Martin
has always been a good performer, Adam repeatedly expresses his concern that
Martin will not be able to satisfy the demands of his job due to his need to
care for his wife. Adam has begun to set unrealistic time frames for
projects assigned to Martin and yells at Martin in front of co-workers about
the need to meet approaching deadlines. Adam also recently began
requiring Martin to follow company policies that other employees are not
required to follow, such as requesting leave at least a week in advance.
Adam has removed Martin from team projects, stating that Martin's co-workers
do not think that Martin can be counted on to complete his share of the work
"considering all of his wife's medical problems." Though
Martin has complained several times to upper management about Adam's
behavior, the employer does nothing. The employer is liable for
harassment on the basis of Martin's association with an individual with a
4. Does the ADA require an employer to
provide a reasonable accommodation to a person 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.
Example J: Kyung,
an employee at an accounting firm, requests a week of unpaid leave and is told
by her supervisor that there will be no difficulty in granting the leave.
Kyung then mentions that she will be using the leave to care for her mother with
a disability, who is coming into town for medical treatments. The
supervisor denies the leave request, telling Kyung that the firm's leave policy
is not intended to cover this type of situation and that she should hire someone
to look after her mother. A few days later, the supervisor approves
Diego's request for a week of unpaid leave to attend a father-son camp with his
son. If the firm grants requests for unpaid leave for certain personal or
family reasons, it is a violation of the ADA's association provision to deny
Kyung's request because she wishes to use the time to assist her mother with a
Example K: A law
firm permits its attorneys to use 100 hours of administrative leave a year to
provide pro bono legal services. One attorney, Sylvia, wants to use these
hours to work with a non-profit organization that provides legal and other
services to individuals with psychiatric disabilities. The law firm denies
her request because it does not believe that this type of work will reflect well
on its image. If the firm allows attorneys to use administrative leave to
provide pro bono legal services, it is a violation of the association provision
of the ADA to deny Sylvia's request because she wishes to use the time to assist
individuals with disabilities.
5. Does an employer have to provide health
insurance coverage to employees who have dependents with disabilities beyond
that provided to other employees?
No. As noted above, the ADA requires employers to provide
employees with dependents who have disabilities equal access to whatever health
insurance coverage is offered to other employees. An employer is not
required to provide additional health insurance coverage under the ADA.
Example L: A
state employer's health insurance plan will only pay for a certain number of
days of inpatient care for employees' dependents each year. An employee
informs the employer that his wife's disability will require more time in the
hospital than the plan covers. The ADA does not require the employer to
provide additional health insurance coverage to meet the wife's needs. A
health insurance plan provision that limits the number of days of inpatient care
for employee dependents affects individuals with many kinds of conditions, only
some of which are disabilities. Consequently, the limitation is not a
disability-based distinction and would not violate the ADA.
If, however, the employer's health insurance plan has
terms or provisions which make disability-based distinctions (e.g., provisions
that single out specific disabilities, groups of disabilities or disability
generally), the plan itself may violate the ADA unless an employer can
demonstrate that the plan provision is not a subterfuge to evade the purposes of
Any person who believes that his or her employment rights
have been violated on the basis of an association with a person with a
disability and wants to make a claim against an employer must file a
"charge of discrimination" with the EEOC. The charge must be
filed by mail or in person with the local EEOC office within 180 days from the
date of the alleged violation. The 180-day filing deadline is extended to
300 days if a state or local anti-discrimination law also covers the charge.
The EEOC will notify the employer of the charge and may
ask for responses and supporting information. Before a formal
investigation, the EEOC may select the charge for EEOC's mediation program,
which may prevent a time-consuming investigation of the charge.
Participation in mediation is free, voluntary, and confidential.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the EEOC investigates the
charge to determine if there is "reasonable cause" to believe
discrimination has occurred. If reasonable cause is found, the EEOC will
then try to resolve the charge. In some cases, where the charge cannot be
resolved, the EEOC will file a court action. If the EEOC finds no
discrimination, or if an attempt to resolve the charge fails and the EEOC
decides not to file suit, it will issue a notice of a "right to sue,"
which gives the charging party 90 days to file a court action. A charging
party also can request a notice of a "right to sue" from the EEOC 180
days after the charge first was filed with the EEOC and may then bring suit
within 90 days after receiving the notice. For a detailed description of
the process, visit our website at http://www.eeoc.gov/charge/overview_charge_filing.html.
For issues relating to federal employment, please refer to our website at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-fed.html.
The ADA prohibits retaliation by an employer against
someone who opposes discriminatory employment practices, files a charge of
employment discrimination, or testifies or participates in any way in an
investigation, proceeding, or litigation. Persons who believe that they
have been retaliated against may file a charge of retaliation with the EEOC as
 See 42
U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act provides the
same protections for federal government employees and applicants. In
addition, most states have their own laws prohibiting employment discrimination
on the basis of disability. Some of these state laws may apply to smaller
employers and provide protections in addition to those available under the ADA.
According to the
Department of Health and Human Services, HIV/AIDS is not a
disease that can be transmitted through food handling. See List
of Infectious and Communicable Diseases which are Transmitted through the Food
Supply at 69 Fed. Reg. 59237 (October 4, 2004). For a discussion of
actions an employer may take in compliance with the ADA when an applicant or
employee may have a disease transmissible through food handling, see EEOC's How
to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for
Restaurants and Other Food Service Employers, questions 6-11, available
 A reasonable
accommodation is any work-related modification that will permit an employee or
prospective employee with a disability to participate in the job application
process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to partake in the same
benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by employees without disabilities.
See EEOC Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (as revised October 17, 2002) at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html
for more information about reasonable accommodation.
however, that an employee who needs leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent
may be entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The FMLA, which covers private employers with 50 or more employees and state and
local government employers, provides up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during
any 12-month period to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health
condition. The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the FMLA. For more
information, go to www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla/.
Interim Enforcement Guidance on the Application of the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990 to Disability-Related Distinctions in Employer Provided
Health Insurance (Interim Enforcement Guidance) at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/health.html
for more information on this issue.