Disability Accommodation and Disability-Related Accommodation
Many impairments resulting from disability are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to most employers having 15 or more workers. If an employee is able to perform the essential functions of her job with or without accommodation, her employer must provide reasonable accommodations for impairments related to her disability that affect any aspect of her job functions.
Example: A receptionist at an airport information kiosk breaks her foot. She is still able to fulfill the essential functions of her job – interacting with the public, giving them information, and communicating with others via telephone – but cannot stand for a full 8-hour shift. Standing is not an essential function of the job, but is customary for the position. Providing her with a stool is probably a reasonable accommodation.
The “essential functions” of a job are the fundamental duties of a job, whether or not they constitute the largest share of an employee’s time. An employee who can’t perform the essential job functions, even with reasonable accommodation, isn’t considered qualified for the job and isn’t protected from discrimination.
Example: A helicopter pilot works for a tour company, where she spends three hours a day flying a helicopter, two hours on maintenance, and two hours on paperwork. Despite the fact that less than 50% of her time is spent in actual flight, it is clear that “flying a helicopter” is an essential function of her employment.
An employee must request necessary accommodations upon the advice of a medical provider and provide notice of the requested accommodation(s). Once notice is provided, the employer and employee must engage in an interactive process, wherein they sit down and discuss what aspects need to be accommodated. The employer must provide options for accommodations, and the employee must provide input as to what will work for her needs. The employer may have to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to disabled employees.
Example: An employee with a broken leg may request additional breaks for periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring or modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, a stool or chair, dress code accommodations such as allowing more comfortable footwear, and more.
Whether or not an accommodation is reasonable is a balancing test. Ideally, the employer and employee devise an accommodation that meets the needs of the employee without creating an undue burden and can be implemented quickly. If an accommodation is impossible to provide or creates an undue hardship upon the company, an employer may not be required by law to accommodate the employee.
Example: The aforementioned helicopter pilot is advised not to fly while her broken leg heals – approximately 8-10 weeks – and requests a temporary transfer to a less-strenuous office/maintenance position or a temporary leave of absence. Depending on the circumstances, this may be reasonable (if she works for an national tour company with hundreds of pilots) or unduly burdensome (if she works for a five-pilot operation).
An employer may not penalize an employee for requesting or using an accommodation.
To schedule an appointment at the Basking Ridge, Oradell, or Newark, New Jersey, law offices of The Mark Law Firm, contact the firm online or call 908-375-6767, 908-375-6767, or 201-431-7541 today. Our experienced employment attorneys can help you determine whether you may have a claim for disability discrimination or other New Jersey employment law claims.