You can legally reject job applicants who have physical or mental limitations if they would pose a direct threat to their own safety or the safety of customers or co-workers. The ADA makes that clear.
What isn’t clear is what’s considered a “direct threat.” The law says it’s up to you to prove a person would be such a threat, and you first must consider possible accommodations that would alleviate the threat.
For example: Say a call-center rep wants to bring her Seeing Eye dog to work. You’d be hard-pressed to argue that the dog represents a threat if there’s a convenient place for it to rest out of the way. But if a hemophiliac wants to work as a prep chef, the danger becomes pretty clear.
Bottom line: Perform an individual evaluation of each situation. If a disabled employee applies for a position, you’ll have to look at the claimed disability and any possible accommodations before saying “no” because you think he’s a direct threat.
Recent case: Steven Bradley, whose mobility is impaired by cerebral palsy, applied for a Wal-Mart greeter/cashier job. Bradley gets around by using either a wheelchair or crutches, but he prefers crutches.
Wal-Mart rejected his application, claiming the crutches took up a lot of room and might be an obstacle to customers, and that Bradley might trip over product displays.
While a lower court sided with Wal-Mart, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Bradley’s lawsuit. It said the burden was on Wal-Mart to show Bradley was a direct threat, and the retailer should have considered whether he could safely work from his wheelchair if it thought the crutches too cumbersome or hazardous. It ordered a jury trial. (EEOC v. Wal- Mart Stores, No. 06-1593, 8th Cir., 2007)