The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers protection to disabled individuals in the workplace. Under the law, employers cannot discriminate against a person with a physical or mental disability when hiring, compensating, promoting or firing. The law also protects disabled people from suffering retaliation from an employer when they report violations to the law.
A disabled person is one that has a permanent mental or physical ailment that significantly affects their mobility, communication skills, cognitive functioning or bodily functions such as breathing, digestion, bowel or bladder control, or immunity. To be protected under the ADA, an employee must fall under the status of a qualified worker with a disability, which means the mental or physical disability is permanent and life altering, but the individual is still able to fulfill the job requirements of their position. Employers and prospective employers must provide reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of the disabled worker or they will be in violation of the law.
Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Workers
Employers can expect disabled employees to be able to carry out the responsibilities for the job for which they were hired, yet in some cases, the employer may have to provide reasonable accommodations. Examples of reasonable accommodations can include handicapped access and ramps installed at the workplace for employees in wheelchairs, assisted hearing technology for workers with a hearing impairment, modified work schedules and flexible leave policies for those suffering from physical conditions such as multiple sclerosis or diabetes, and allowing a disabled employee to work from home.
If an accommodation for a disabled worker creates an undue hardship for an employer, they may be exempt from the law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers several factors when determining whether an employer is able to provide a reasonable accommodation. The type of work required to provide the accommodation and the cost to the employer, as well as the financial health of the company can make it very difficult for some employers to supply the disabled worker with the modifications needed. The EEOC will also consider what efforts the employer has already offered and how the business itself would be affected by the accommodations.
State and Local Laws that Provide Additional Protection for Disabled Workers
The American with Disabilities Act is a federal law protecting disabled individuals, but state and local laws offer additional protection to disabled workers. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual based on a real or perceived disability. The NJLAD applies to all private, state and local government employers in New Jersey, wherein the ADA applies only to employers with 15 or more employees. The NJLAD also includes a broader list of disabilities than the ADA affords. NJLAD specifically covers physical disabilities as well as physical illness or disease, disfigurement, developmental impairments, psychological issues, paralysis, amputations, visual, hearing and speech impairments, and AIDS/HIV.