The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act

As part of a series of how we as a country have decided to treat employees with serious medical issues, I include below the Congressional findings and purposes behind the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

I like explaining the purposes of laws to clients. I find they always agree, and they also appreciate that their lawmakers "get it."

I also like raising the purposes with employers who are not getting it -- whether it is intentionally or unintentionally.

First, the opening section of the ADA, where Congress sets out its findings and the purpose of the Act as of the time of the law's passage, 1990.

(a) The Congress finds that—

(1) physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination; others who have a record of a disability or are regarded as having a disability also have been subjected to discrimination;

(2) historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem;

(3) discrimination against individuals with disabilities persists in such critical areas as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services;

... (5) individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion.... failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities;

(6) census data, national polls, and other studies have documented that people with disabilities, as a group, occupy an inferior status in our society, and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally;

(7) the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals; and

(8) the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductivity....

(b) It is the purpose of this chapter—

(1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities;

(2) to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities;

(3) to ensure that the Federal Government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in this chapter on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and

(4) to invoke the sweep of congressional authority, including the power to enforce the fourteenth amendment and to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities.

42 USC § 12101 (emphasis added).

Similarly, the opening section of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides Congress's findings on the workplace treatment of people with serious medical conditions or as parents:

(a) Congress finds that—

(1) the number of single-parent households and two-parent households in which the single parent or both parents work is increasing significantly;

(2) it is important for the development of children and the family unit that fathers and mothers be able to participate in early childrearing and the care of family members who have serious health conditions;

(3) the lack of employment policies to accommodate working parents can force individuals to choose between job security and parenting;

(4) there is inadequate job security for employees who have serious health conditions that prevent them from working for temporary periods;

(5) due to the nature of the roles of men and women in our society, the primary responsibility for family caretaking often falls on women, and such responsibility affects the working lives of women more than it affects the working lives of men; and

(6) employment standards that apply to one gender only have serious potential for encouraging employers to discriminate against employees and applicants for employment who are of that gender.

(b) It is the purpose of this Act—

(1) to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, to promote the stability and economic security of families, and to promote national interests in preserving family integrity;

(2) to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, and for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition;

(3) to accomplish the purposes described in paragraphs (1) and (2) in a manner that accommodates the legitimate interests of employers;

...

(5) to promote the goal of equal employment opportunity for women and men, pursuant to such clause.

To summarize, these two laws exist together to:

  • Balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.

  • Provide additional job security to those with serious medical conditions and/or a disability.

  • Promote the stability and economic security of families.

  • Promote equal employment between women and men.

  • Provide the opportunity to compete, including by those with disabilities.

  • Provide the opportunity to care for family members while remaining in employment.

  • Establish that exclusion or failure to accommodate is contrary to our clear national policy.


Doorways Employment Law, LLC specializes in employment law counseling, strategic advice and representation to employees and small and medium-sized businesses across Massachusetts, including with respect to reasonable accommodations, disability discrimination and family and medical leave. Contact Doorways for a consultation.

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