ADA: Hiring Practices

The ADA has revolutionized the job interview. Although interviews have historically been an unreliable way to determine employee performance, employers continue to use them out of a sense of tradition. The ADA has brought some structure to the job interview, and by making employers focus on the applicant’s ability to perform the job’s essential functions may even enable employers to hire better employees.

Remember: You may not ask any question whose answer might reveal a disability. To be safe, only ask questions about the person’s ability to perform the job’s essential functions. Of course, in order to do this, employers must have accurate and up-to-date job descriptions outlining essential and nonessential job functions. Job descriptions should be updated regularly by taking input from both employees and supervisors. Courts frown upon out-of-date job descriptions.

Make interview site accessible

The place you conduct interviews says a great deal about your organization’s willingness to accommodate disabled workers. The interview site should be easily accessible for wheelchair-bound applicants and have disabled-accessible restrooms. Addi­tionally, check the site for other accessibility issues: handicapped parking spaces, properly sized aisles and doors, and alarm ­systems that emit both audible and visual signals in the event of an emergency.

Note: Building accessibility guidelines are available from the United States Access Board at

Interview Do’s and Don’ts

Before conducting a job interview, draw up a list of questions to ask the applicant. Then review your list to ensure your questions won’t violate the ADA. Here’s some guidance on what questions you may or may not ask during a hiring interview. 

May I ask …

“How many days were you off sick last year?”
Reason: The answer may indicate a disability and its severity.

“Other than vacation, how many Mondays or Fridays were you absent last year?”
Reason: The answer tends to show abuse of leave rather than taking time off because of a disability.

“Have you ever been addicted to illegal drugs or alcohol?”
Reason: Addiction is a disability.

“Other than due to illness, how many days were you absent last year?”
 Reason: The answer highlights attendance problems not associated with a disability.

“Have you ever taken illegal drugs?”
Reason: Casual, illegal drug use isn’t a disability under the ADA, but answering “yes” might reveal a past addiction.

“Are you on illegal drugs today?”
Reason: Current use of an illegal drug isn’t a covered disability.

“Are you taking Ritalin? AZT?”
Reason: The answer will likely reveal a disability (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or narcolepsy, or HIV/AIDS-related diseases).

“Do you drink the equivalent of more than a six-pack of beer a day?”
Reason: The answer could reveal alcoholism.

“Do you drink socially?”
Reason: The question could elicit confessions of binge drinking, which may be a disability.

Tip: To steer clear of ADA discrimination charges, ask questions only about a person’s ability to perform the job’s essential functions.