New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws protect workers with disabilities by requiring employers to accommodate their limitations in the workplace when asked to do so. However, companies are not required to go to extreme lengths to make the workplace or the work duties accessible to the employee.
What exactly are “reasonable accommodations,” and when do you have to provide them? We take a look at the laws here.
Employers Must Consider a Worker’s Request
Both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) require employers to make the workplace accessible to workers with disabilities whenever possible. The New Jersey law goes a bit further than the federal law in that it applies to all employers—even those with only a single employee—and does not place a limit on damages when an employee sues.
The laws do not require employers to make accommodations that would cause undue financial or logistical hardship. In other words, if the changes requested by the employee are cost-prohibitive or disrupt workflow to an extreme level, the employer does not have to make them. Examples of reasonable accommodations for most employers include:
- Wheelchair accessibility
- Ergonomic workspaces and orthopedic chairs
- Temporary leaves of absence
- Modified work schedules or duties
- Reassignment to new duties
- Hardware, software, or additional employees to assist blind or hearing-impaired workers
- Allowing service animals in the workplace
The employee must request assistance in order to trigger the company’s duty to accommodate them. This request does not have to be in writing or follow any formal process, but it should be a clear, direct, and specific request for assistance.
The Key Is Engaging in an Interactive Process
As an employer, you are obligated to consider an employee’s request for accommodations in good faith. This means that you must make an effort to understand the request and go to certain lengths to evaluate the feasibility for your company. Ideally, the process includes discussions with the employee and a good-faith effort on your part to provide the requested assistance.
If you determine that you cannot reasonably accommodate an employee who has requested assistance, you should consult with an attorney before denying the request. Because the courts tend to interpret anti-discrimination laws very strictly, you will have to be able to back up your decision with facts and figures that support your decision if you are sued.
We Advise Employers of Their Rights and Responsibilities
There are certainly acceptable reasons for denying a request for accommodation, but before doing so, you have to do your due diligence. Consulting with an experienced attorney should be part of that process. Don’t wait until you are being sued by an employee to call a lawyer. Be proactive and talk to attorney Frank Steinberg if you are considering denying an ADA/LAD request. Contact us today.