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What Protections Do I Have if I Have a Disability?

If you are so disabled that you cannot work, then you should look into a FMLA leave (see the previous entry) and find out if your employer offers any other short-term or long-term disability leave. In addition, you should check into short-term and long-term disability insurance benefits that may be offered through your employer or that you may have purchased privately. In New York, employers are required to offer basic short-term disability insurance and federal Social Security Disability benefits are available after six months of disability to those who qualify.

If you can work, but you need some assistance, then there are several laws that may help you. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide you with a reasonable accommodation so that you can stay in your job. In order to qualify for ADA protection, you must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and you must be able to perform the essential functions of your job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

A reasonable accommodation is a job adjustment that does not impose an undue hardship on your employer. For example, permitting you to arrive at work 30 minutes late and make up the time at the end of the day so that you can attend physical therapy could be a reasonable accommodation for most employers. But if you are a news anchor and your employer has spent millions of dollars advertising your appearance at 8 am every day, then arriving at 8:30 am might impose an undue hardship on your employer.

Other examples of reasonable accommodation might include providing you with a specialized keyboard or voice activated software if you are limited in your ability to type, or transferring you into a vacant position that would reduce your commute if you have back pain that makes it difficult for you to sit in a car for lengthy periods.

If your employer is aware, or should be aware, that you have a disability and might require an accommodation, your employer is obligated to enter into an interactive process with you to determine what kind of reasonable accommodations you may need. Your employer is entitled to seek certain medical information to confirm your disability and needs for reasonable accommodation.

New York State and New York City also have laws that require employers to give employees reasonable accommodations. These laws have even more employee-friendly provisions and apply to employers with as few as four employees.

All three sets of laws prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of disability and perceived disability. An employer can neither refuse to hire you nor deny you a promotion, raise or other term or condition of employment just because it thinks you have a disability (or because you have a disability) as defined in the applicable (federal, state or city) law.

All three sets of laws also protect you from retaliation if you exercise your rights. So, for example, if you request a reasonable accommodation and your employer fires you for asking, that is a separate violation of the law. You are also protected from retaliation if you complain about disability discrimination, either to your employer or to an agency or court.

The disability discrimination laws offer a complex set of interacting standards, and you should not diagnose your legal situation on your own. You should consider consulting an attorney trained in the area of disability law.

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