Q. Our company operates a distribution warehouse. Our application process used to be very simple—applicants would come into the warehouse and voice their interest. We would do a quick interview on the spot and usually hire the person. Since then our company has grown significantly and we want to make sure we are in compliance with current regulations. In order to work in the warehouse, employees must be able to lift at least 75 pounds. During an interview, can we ask what disabilities, if any, an applicant may have? We just want to make sure our employees are able to lift the boxes.
A. Prior to employment, it is illegal for an employer to ask an applicant if he or she has a disability or to inquire about the severity of a perceived disability. The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, particularly during the hiring process.
Instead of asking applicants whether they have a disability, you can ask applicants about their ability to perform specific essential job functions. In your case, you may ask all applicants whether they can lift at least 75 pounds with or without an accommodation.
Based on your expressed interest in becoming compliant, however, you should consider crafting written job descriptions for your positions. The two keys to effective job descriptions are (1) accuracy and (2) being up-to-date. Without both, the descriptions are essentially worthless.
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