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The Americans With Disabilities Act Turns 30

This year marks the 30th anniversary of a major milestone in our nation’s history – the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“the “ADA”). Banning discrimination on the basis of disability in employment (places of public accommodation, public services transportation, and telecommunications) the ADA welcomed a new era of opportunity and access for people with disabilities.

The ADA requires that employers with 15 or more employees provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available. For example, the ADA prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. Under the ADA, an employer is restricted from asking questions about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. The reasonable accommodation process involves a cooperative dialogue between employer and employee with really no accommodation being considered off the table.

COVID-19 has presented new issues with regard to disability discrimination, the most common involving employees with underlying health conditions who require an accommodation to work from home. Remote working for disabled employees can be the difference between maintaining their livelihood or unemployment. Under the broad language of the human rights laws in New York, no accommodation should be off the table unless it would be unduly burdensome to the employer. Remote working would not typically fall into that category.

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