New York Disability Discrimination Laws: NY Employment Law Basics

When an employer, in New York, makes employment decisions based on a disability and not via criteria appropriate under law, the action of the employer may be considered disability discrimination under federal and New York State Law.

New York State and New York City Law provides comprehensive protections for employees with disability that employers should be aware of.  

employmentThe federal U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is the baseline protection for disabled employees in New York. Generally, under the ADA, employers with 15 or more employees are barred from making employment or hiring decisions based on an employee’s disability.  This federal law is the baseline, while, in many cases, New York Law provides more comprehensive, yet, less certain additional protections via a broader definition of disability and what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation.”  Doing business in New York is like doing business in a minefield if you do not have a local guide, formalities in place and a nuanced approached to risk mitigation.  For a related employment law articles please see: Sexual Discrimination Laws in New York.

New York State & New York City Human Rights Laws

The New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of a disability. These laws, however, expand the scope of businesses that are prohibited from making hiring or employment decisions on the basis of and employee’s disability. Under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law, employers with four or more employees are barred from making such decisions based on an employee’s disability. The effect of this is that some very small businesses fall under the mandate of these rules.

How Does Federal and New York Law Define Disability?

The ADA regards an individual as having a disability when “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) [there is] a record of such an impairment; or (C) [the individual is] being regarded as having such an impairment.” Major life activities include “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” A 2008 Amendment to the ADA expanded major life activities to include certain “major bodily functions.”

The New York State Human Rights Law defines disability differently, for instance, by requiring the impairment to prevent the “exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques” instead of limitations based on a major life activity.

The New York City Human Rights Law defines disability most broadly. In this law, “any physical, medical, mental or psychological impairment, or a history of such impairment” is regarded as a disability, omitting the requirement that the disability limit a major life activity, prevent the exercise of a normal bodily function, or be demonstrated by medically accepted clinical or laboratory techniques.

Reasonable Accommodations and Undue Hardship

Employees who are regarded as having a disability may be entitled to “reasonable accommodations.” The formula is different depending on whether the employee relies on Federal, State, or NY City Law, but generally, reasonable accommodations are typically steps such as, inter alia, “making existing facilities used by employees accessible,” “job restructuring,” or “reassignment to a vacant position.” Under Federal, New York State and New York City Law, when such accommodations are deemed “undue hardship,” employers are, normally, not forced to make such accommodations.

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