Part 7: The Lawyer Responds

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Keith mentioned three basic actions that the mission can take. Let me expand on those a little.


The mission can indeed set standards in its job description, in its Code of Conduct, or in its overall spiritual vision statement. Those standards can include spiritual and relational health. These can be defined without reference to disabilities. If a person does not meet these basic standards for the job, the person is not qualified for the job, regardless of disabilities. The person will only be qualified if he or she meets the job requirements with or without accommodation. If the job is a ministerial position, the mission should have fairly broad latitude to determine whether the person has the needed characteristics, without even worrying about accommodations.

It’s important to remember that relational health, character traits, and spiritual maturity may all be analyzed through interviews, references, and evaluations. If it is not a psychological diagnostic, the test does not trigger the potential ADA problems. 

It becomes more complicated when a disability is put into the mix. This usually happens in one of two ways. Either the person volunteers the information, as in Brent’s earlier hypothetical, or the mission discovers it through testing. Once a disability is involved, the ADA could be at issue (though not necessarily, if the ministerial exception applies). Then, and only then, accommodations must be considered. And many problems are not related to an actual disability.

Second, if a person does not meet the mission’s standards for spiritual and emotional health, or if it does not seem that a person would be healthy or adapt well to the field, the mission can simply decline them. Keith asked if this could happen only if the mission had accepted them initially. We have said before that the mission does not want to do psychological testing before accepting a person, because of triggering possible ADA problems. However, it’s quite possible that the mission determines a person is not spiritually or emotionally ready without any testing that would implicate the ADA—thus, the mission wouldn’t accept them in the first place.

If there is no disability involved, the mission does not need to consider accommodations (though it still can if it wants to). If there is a disability, the mission can offer a reasonable accommodation for a person. Depending on the disability and the proposed place of service, this is going to be more likely to work out in some situations than in others, but the standard is making a good effort and having a good interactive discussion.

In Keith’s hypotheticals, I would argue that the first person suffers from a lack of spiritual and emotional maturity, rather than a disability. The person may need counseling to help with boundary issues, but doesn’t need an ADA accommodation. The mission needs to consider whether this person could be coached and supported sufficiently to be a useful teacher in the proposed setting.

The second person suffers primarily from a spiritual problem. The mission can evaluate whether the temptations will be too great in that placement, and whether it can sufficiently offer accountability and support—and whether that is too much of a burden on the mission.

These issues were not discovered through psychological testing, but through interviews and references. The mission should be free to make the best decisions without worrying about discrimination problems. On a practical level, I wouldn’t advocate that a mission accept a person who is going to need 24/7 support or caregiving! That is likely going to be too heavy a burden on the organization even if the ADA should apply.

More Blogs in the "Accommodation Issues" Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations