EEOC Affirms Federal Law Protecting Those who Associate with the Disabled

October 17, 2005

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a question-and-answer-style document about a little-known but significant provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that protects applicants and employees from discrimination based on their association with people with disabilities.

The document, entitled “Questions and Answers about the Association Provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act” and available at, is the first of several the EEOC intends to issue in October as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

The “association” provision of the ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against an applicant or employee who has a known association with an individual with a disability. This prohibition covers hiring, firing, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. For example, an employer may not refuse to hire someone because of an unfounded fear that the individual will be excessively absent or unproductive because of the need to care for a child with a disability.

“Family members, friends and caregivers of people with disabilities should know that they are protected from employment discrimination based on those relationships,” said EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez. “This new document also advises employers of this important provision of the ADA.”

The following actions would also be discriminatory:

* Firing or refusing to hire someone based on concerns that the individual will acquire a condition from a family member or other individual with whom he has a relationship;
* Refusing to provide health insurance for an employee’s family member with a disability when the employer generally provides health insurance for employee dependents;
* Harassing someone based on the individual’s association with a person with a disability;
* Providing lesser benefits to someone who has a relationship or association with an individual with a disability than it provides to all other employees; and
* Firing, refusing to hire, or denying any benefit or privilege of employment to someone because of concern that the employer’s image will be negatively affected by an applicant’s or employee’s association with individuals with disabilities – for example, discriminating against an employee who provides volunteer services for people with HIV/AIDS or psychiatric disabilities is prohibited.

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