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Breaking Down Disability Discrimination Laws: Accommodations, Accessibility, and Inclusivity

By Douglas Lipsky

Disability discrimination remains one of the most significant barriers in the workplace. However, it is crucial to understand that federal, state, and city laws exist to protect disabled workers from such discrimination. These laws ensure that all workers have an equal opportunity to contribute to society, regardless of their physical or mental challenges. If you are facing discrimination because of your disabilities, it takes an experienced employment lawyer to protect your rights. Let’s explore disability discrimination and how to enforce your employment rights.

Understanding Disability Discrimination Laws

At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the primary legislation that protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination. It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship.

New York State’s Human Rights Law offers similar protections as the ADA but has broader definitions, offering coverage to more workers. For example, while the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, New York State’s law includes employers with as few as four employees.

On the city level, New York City’s Human Rights Law goes even further in its protections. It not only has a more expansive definition of what constitutes a disability but also places a higher burden on employers to prove that an accommodation would cause undue hardship.

Comparatively, while the federal ADA provides a strong foundation for anti-discrimination policies, New York State and City laws expand upon these protections. They ensure a more inclusive range of employers are held accountable and more individuals can be classified as disabled, receiving the protections they rightfully deserve.

How Reasonable Accommodations Encourage Access and Inclusivity

Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to a job or work environment that enable a person with a disability to perform essential job functions. These accommodations vary based on the individual’s needs but often have the shared purpose of promoting inclusivity and access.

Examples of reasonable accommodations under the law include:

  • Modifying work schedules to accommodate medical appointments or treatments.
  • Providing specialized equipment or software, such as screen readers for visually impaired employees.
  • Making physical changes to the workspace to ensure it is accessible, like installing ramps or modifying restrooms.
  • Offering telecommuting options for those who may have mobility challenges.

Such accommodations are not just beneficial for the workers. They also benefit employers by ensuring a diverse and inclusive work environment, reducing turnover, and increasing employee morale and productivity. When an employer fosters an environment of inclusivity, it can lead to innovation, varied perspectives, and enhanced team performance.

When To Call A Disability Discrimination Attorney

Identifying disability discrimination is challenging because employers have the upper hand over disabled workers and know how to disguise their discriminatory and illegal motives. Nonetheless, various types of discrimination may require legal representation, such as: 

  • Failure to accommodate – an employer refuses to make reasonable accommodations or does not engage in a good faith interactive process to determine possible accommodations.
  • Harassment – continuous ridicule, mockery, or unfavorable treatment based on one’s disability.
  • Retaliation – adverse actions (e.g. demotion, dismissal) taken against an employee for asserting their rights under disability discrimination laws or assisting another employee in doing so.
  • Unlawful termination – Being let go from a position because of a disability or the need for accommodations.

While equal employment opportunity laws offer protections against disability discrimination, navigating their nuances and intricacies can be challenging. Consulting with an employment lawyer ensures that you have an advocate in your corner, fighting for justice and inclusivity.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.