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What are 'reasonable accommodations' in the workplace?

New Jersey has a Law Against Discrimination that prohibits discrimination by employers in all stages of a person's employment or potential employment, beginning with recruitment and interviews. The law governs not just the reasons for which a person can be terminated, but conditions of employment, compensation and promotions.

Under the LAD, New Jersey employers cannot intentionally discriminate against people in a number of protected categories.These include physical or mental disabilities.

Too often, people with disabilities find themselves shut out of jobs that they are perfectly capable of performing and even excelling at because employers wrongly believe that their disability prevents them from performing the necessary functions. Some employers simply don't want to make reasonable accommodations necessary to allow a person to do the job.

Both state and federal courts have been clear about employers' obligations to provide these accommodations. Further, even if an employee doesn't request accommodations, an employer may still be required to provide them.

"Reasonable" accommodation doesn't mean that it can't cost any money or cause any inconvenience to the employer. According to New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights, an employer must make reasonable accommodations to an employee's workspace or assignments "unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the operation of its business."

If a person's disability would prevent him or her from the "safe performance of a particular job" or the "essential duties" of a job, of course, an employer is not required to hire that person or to keep him or her in a position. However, the law is also clear that if a person's disability "merely hinders the execution of some tasks," he or she cannot be discriminated against in the workplace.

Of course, proving that you were discriminated against because you are disabled or fall into any of the protected categories may be difficult. Smart employers aren't going to come out and tell people that a protected characteristic is the reason they didn't get a job or promotion or is why they were fired.

However, if you believe that you have been illegally discriminated against by an employer or by others in the workplace, including a lack of reasonable accommodations, it may be worthwhile to seek legal guidance to determine whether you have an employment discrimination case. If an employer discriminates or allows discriminatory behavior, holding that employer legally accountable may not only bring you justice, but prevent others from enduring discrimination.

Source: Division on Civil Rights, "Employment Discrimination," accessed Sep. 08, 2015

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