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Disabilities Law Trap for Small Oregon Employers

Most business people are aware (at least they should be aware) that the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Did you know, however, that Oregon has a state disabilities law that mirrors the Federal ADA except it applies to employers with just six or more employees?

If you were not aware of the Oregon provision, you are not alone. The lower employee threshold for the state disabilities law has largely gone ignored by Oregon media, businesses and employees. That, however, may soon change. You need to be prepared.

There will likely be a bill in the 2003 Oregon Legislature to increase the Oregon law's threshold from 6 employees to 15 employees to be consistent with the Federal law. Whether the bill passes or fails, it will call attention to the Oregon law.

This attention will cause some employees (and their attorneys) to challenge Oregon employers. Some small businesses may end up paying a high price.

Oregon employers with 6 or more employees are subject to the Oregon law. All private employers with 15 or more employees are subject to the Federal ADA. A copy of the Oregon and federal statutes can be found at the following links:

DON'T: Don't ignore the ADA (15 or more employees) or the Oregon disabilities law (6 or more employees) when interviewing job applicants, hiring new employees, managing your work force and disciplining or terminating employees that do not work out.

DO: Do review your job application documents, interview questions and hiring procedures to ensure compliance with state and federal disabilities law.

DO: Do maintain detailed job descriptions for each position setting out the essential functions, non-essential functions and physical requirements of each position. This is crucial for hiring, responding to requests for accommodation and return of injured workers. We have a tool you can use to simplify this difficult task.

DO: Do announce your policy of complying fully with the ADA and all other applicable disabilities laws in a written policy. This policy can help you guard against future discrimination claims.

DO: Do reassign non-essential job functions when necessary to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities (proper job descriptions written in advance are crucial).

DO: Do consult with legal counsel familiar with employers' obligations under state and federal disability laws when ever there is a disabilities question. There are requirements you may not anticipate that could cost you dearly if you make the wrong decision. Legal advice before you take action may help you follow the law and avoid costly mistakes.

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