In addition to protecting qualified applicants and employees with disabilities from employment discrimination, one ADA provision – the "Association" provision (42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4))– 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 disability.

Protection Against Adverse Actions

According to the EEOC’s Questions and Answers About the Association Provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 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
  • Denying an employee health care coverage available to others because of the disability of an employee’s dependent

Reasonable Accommodation Not Required

However, the ADA does not 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.  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.