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Recognizing the Signs of Disability Discrimination

By Douglas Lipsky

In today’s diverse and inclusive society, it is crucial for employers to create a workplace that respects and accommodates individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, disability discrimination continues to be a pressing issue that affects many disabled employees and job applicants. 

Recognizing the signs of disability discrimination is the first step in combating this injustice. By working with an experienced employment discrimination attorney, disabled individuals can seek justice and ensure equal treatment in the workplace.

What is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer treats a qualified individual with a disability unfavorably because of their disability, resulting in unfair treatment, harassment, or the denial of employment opportunities. Examples of disability discrimination include:

  • Refusing to hire an individual with a disability based on stereotypes or assumptions about their capabilities
  • Failing to provide reasonable accommodations for a disabled employee, such as modifications to the work environment, schedule, or job duties, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer
  • Subjecting a disabled employee to harassment or creating a hostile work environment based on their disability
  • Denying promotions or opportunities for advancement to disabled employees based on their disability
  • Terminating or demoting a disabled employee solely because of their disability.

No matter how it occurs, disability discrimination is illegal under federal, state, and local laws.

Laws Protecting Employees from Disability Discrimination

Federal, state, and city laws protect the rights of disabled employees and prevent disability discrimination. Understanding the differences between these laws is crucial.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the primary federal law prohibiting disability discrimination. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees and covers various aspects of employment, including hiring, promotions, reasonable accommodations, and terminations. 

In addition to federal protections, state and city laws provide broader protections and apply to most employers. For instance, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) protect disabled employees by expanding upon the rights guaranteed under the ADA and providing additional avenues for seeking redress. 

These laws define disability more broadly and include conditions not included as disabilities under the ADA. The state and city laws also have stricter requirements regarding reasonable accommodations. 

What Is A Reasonable Accommodation?

Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications to enable employees with disabilities to perform their job duties effectively. The purpose of these accommodations is to level the playing field and provide disabled employees with equal opportunities in the workplace. 

Examples of reasonable accommodations include: 

  • Modifications to the work environment – installing ramps, widening doorways, or adjusting the height of desks and workstations to accommodate wheelchair users.
  • Job restructuring – reassigning tasks, adjusting work hours, or providing flexibility in breaks to manage medical appointments or treatments
  • Assistive technology – providing screen readers for visually impaired individuals, voice recognition software for employees with mobility limitations, or specialized equipment for employees with hearing impairments
  • Policy modifications – allowing service animals in the workplace, providing additional leave or modified leave policies for medical treatment or recovery, or implementing flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting or part-time schedules
  • Training and support – providing training on assistive technology, disability awareness training for co-workers, or assigning a mentor or support person to assist the employee in navigating their role

Not all accommodations are considered reasonable. The determination of reasonableness depends on factors such as:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation
  • The size and resources of the employer
  • The impact on the business’s operations

An accommodation may be considered unreasonable if it poses significant difficulty or expense for the employer. If an employer fails to provide reasonable accommodations without undue hardship, it may be considered disability discrimination. 

The Takeaway

Disabled individuals have strong legal protections against discrimination under federal, state, and city law; however, disability discrimination is not uncommon. If you believe an employer has treated you unfairly due to your disability, talk to an experienced disability discrimination attorney. 

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.