The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
The Law Against Discrimination (LAD) also protects New Jersey employees. If your employer denies reasonable accommodations, you need to know your options.
What Is a Disability?
Under the ADA, a disability is a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits an individual somehow in their daily life. The LAD is much broader than the ADA.
Under the LAD, a disability is a physical, mental, developmental, or psychological impairment caused by injury, illness, or birth defect.
What Are Reasonable Accommodations?
Under both the LDA and the ADA, employers must accommodate fair requests from disabled employees for changes in their employment or work environment.
“Reasonable accommodation” means some change in the environment, job duties, or hiring process to accommodate the worker. Employees can request reasonable accommodations such as:
- Equipment modifications;
- Work schedule accommodations;
- Policy changes;
- Reworking job duties; and
- Work environment adjustments, e.g., installing a ramp for a wheelchair.
Reasonable accommodations can be anything that does not cause undue hardship to the employer.
Can an Employer Deny Reasonable Accommodation?
If your employer refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation, it must be because the accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer or company.
Generally, undue hardship would result when the request is too difficult or expensive for the employer to implement. Or if it would fundamentally and negatively impact the business.
Whether accommodations are reasonable depends on the specific circumstances. An employer should make changes if they don’t otherwise interfere with their business operations or profit.
They don’t have to change your essential job functions, but they should do so if it’s possible to adjust your role or duties without harming the business.
You should make your request for reasonable accommodation in writing so you have a record of the date and nature of the request.
In the document, disclose your condition and inform your employer that you require a change in your work environment according to the ADA. Be as clear as possible.
Your employer should work with you to find a compromise that works for both of you. If your employer denies your request for a reasonable accommodation, document the facts of the situation, your request, and their response.
Your Employer’s Obligations
Your employer has certain obligations and responsibilities under the ADA that are activated when employees request accommodations. First, once you submit it, your employer must not waste time or unnecessarily delay processing your request. They must consider every reasonably possible option to meet your request. If they deny your request, they must have a thoroughly documented reason.
What Are My Legal Options if My Employer Denied My Reasonable Accommodation?
If you cannot resolve the issue with your employer, you have two different options under the LAD in New Jersey.
Administrative Remedy in the Office of Administrative Law
The administrative remedy is to file a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety in the Division of Civil Rights Office. You must file within 180 days of the discriminatory act.
A Division officer will evaluate your claim and decide if you have a valid complaint. If you do, the Division conducts an investigation.
If they find probable cause that the discrimination occurred, you and your employer will have a hearing at the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). You can have a lawyer represent you at your hearing, and you should because your employer will probably have private counsel.
At the hearing, the Director of the Division will decide whether you have proven that the employer discriminated against you based on your disability. The Director will also determine your remedy.
Judicial Remedy Litigating in the State Court System
Alternatively, you can file a complaint in the New Jersey Superior Court. You have two years from the date of the action to file your complaint with the court system. Your attorney will investigate the facts of your claim and collect witness testimony and other evidence. If you remain unable to settle the matter with your employer, you’ll go to court, and a jury will decide the outcome of your case. They will also choose the appropriate remedy. You should speak to your lawyer about the best course of action to take in your specific situation.
If your employer refuses reasonable accommodation, and you prevail in your administrative or judicial claim, you could receive the following:
- Placement in the job with back pay and interest;
- Compensation for any lost benefits;
- Damages for pain, humiliation, and emotional distress;
- Reasonable attorney’s fees; and
- Any other out-of-pocket expenses related to the litigation.
Do I Need an Employer to Represent Me if My Employer Refuses My Reasonable Accommodation Request?
If you are not in a union, you are essentially powerless against your employer. Or it can feel that way since there is no one backing you or helping to rectify your painful situation. Depending on your employer, they might have plenty of experience handling employment discrimination suits for denying reasonable accommodations. Regardless of who they are, they probably have more resources and money available to protect themselves than you do.
An experienced employment discrimination attorney knows what you need to support your claim. They know how to present your case in the best light possible to the OAL judge or trial jury. They will also be familiar with unfair tactics your employer’s attorneys might attempt. If you suspect your employer has unfairly refused your reasonable accommodation, you should get some support on your side by contacting an experienced employment attorney sooner rather than later.
If Your Employer Denied Your Reasonable Accommodation, O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble Can Help
At O'Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our disability discrimination lawyers are the best in the state. We have decades of experience helping employees protect their rights in the workplace. Our lawyers are committed to helping our New Jersey community in any way we can, including offering sober rides this holiday season and providing law school scholarships to help worthy candidates pursue a career in law.
All four of our partners have been included on the Super Lawyers List, and our firm has earned numerous other distinctions within the legal community. We are standing by, ready to speak with you about how we can support you and help protect your rights. So contact us today! We’re happy to set up a consultation to speak about your disability discrimination claim.