Most members of today’s workforce have grown up in the presence of technologies and design features meant to make public places, including places of employment, accessible to people with disabilities. All except the smallest commercial buildings have wheelchair ramps and elevators. Crosswalks beep when the “walk” sign is illuminated or give verbal instructions about when it is safe to cross. Directories in office buildings are written in Braille as well as in the Latin script. Even though accessibility in the workplace is the rule rather than the exception these days, employees may still run up against resistance from their employers when it comes to making modifications that meet the employee’s accessibility needs. Furthermore, the law entitles workers with disabilities to a wide variety of accommodations, some of which have nothing to do with any of the physical features of the workspace. Refusal to make reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability is a form of employment discrimination, as is taking an adverse action against an employee for requesting an accommodation. If you need help requesting accommodations or are having a disagreement with your employer about whether your requested accommodation is reasonable, contact the New York City disability and reasonable accommodations lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
What is a Disability?
A disability is any long-term state of a person’s physical or mental health that interferes with daily life. Therefore, not all disabilities are permanent, and not all disabilities have visible physical signs. Perhaps most importantly, not all disabilities make it impossible to work. Regardless of whether the disability is inborn or the result of an injury or illness that occurred later in life, people with disabilities have the right to work and to receive fair consideration as job candidates and fair treatment as employees. If you are capable of doing the job but you need accommodation (such as a modification to the workspace or a change to the usual work schedule), your employer must make the accommodation. Consider how unfair it would be not to hire an engineer for an engineering job for which he had relevant work experience, simply because his wheelchair could not enter the office. According to the law, it is the engineering firm’s responsibility to make the office accessible for him.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation in New York City?
An accommodation is anything the employer does to make it possible for an employee with a disability to perform their job duties, and without which the employee would not be able to do the job. These are some examples of workplace accommodations that people with disabilities have requested and received:
- Modifications to the workspace – these can include modifying desks, hallways, and doorways to make them wheelchair accessible.
- Devices and software for accessibility – Examples include text to speech or speech to text software on employer-provided computers, smartphones, and tablets, Braille keyboards, and captioning.
- Providing a sign language interpreter when a Deaf employee attends meetings or conferences.
- Schedule modifications – The employer might allow the employee more frequent breaks to take medications or simply to take a break from standing or sitting. Likewise, the employee may request to work during hours when public van transport for people with disabilities is available.
- Waiving non-essential work functions – For example, if the front desk receptionist in an office is unable to reload the copy machine because of a back problem, the employer could reassign those duties to other employees, even though it was originally part of the receptionist’s job description.
All except the smallest companies are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disability; an accommodation qualifies as reasonable if it does not cause an unreasonable financial burden for the employer. Whether an accommodation is reasonable varies according to context. You cannot expect a tutoring company that has its classrooms and offices in rented space in a small, decades-old building to build an elevator for an employee who uses a wheelchair, but it might be more reasonable to ask them to rent a space on the first floor where you can work or to let you meet with students in another location, or even virtually. In fact, deciding on reasonable accommodations should be a two-way negotiation process, at the end of which they agree on an accommodation that would enable the employee to accomplish their work tasks and would also be affordable for the employer. If the employee seems to need accommodation, for example, if the employee is close to using up their FMLA leave, the employer can even start the negotiation process about disability accommodations.
Requesting Disability Accommodations is a Legally Protected Activity in NYC
In employment law, legally protected activities are actions that your employer cannot punish you for doing. Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the New York City Human Rights Law Requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability is a protected activity, and so are filing a workers’ compensation claim, reporting a workplace safety violation, complaining about employment discrimination, and requesting an unpaid FMLA leave. Even if your employer is unable to make the exact accommodation that you requested, it is against the law for your employer to take an adverse action against you for requesting the accommodation. Adverse actions include demotion, termination of employment, harassment, reassigning you to a different position or work schedule when you did not ask for this, denial of raises and promotions, and unfairly negative performance reviews. If your employer does any of these things shortly after you request a disability accommodation, a New York City employment discrimination lawyer can help you decide what to do next.
Employers’ Responsibilities to Employees and Job Seekers With Disabilities in NYC
People with disabilities have the right to request accommodations in the workplace even before their jobs officially begin. You have the right to request and receive accommodations during the interview and training process, not just on or after your first day of work.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Disability Accommodations in New York City
HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you resolve disputes with your employer about reasonable accommodations for your disability. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in New York, New York to set up a consultation.