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Showing posts with label reasonable accommodation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reasonable accommodation. Show all posts

Monday, December 06, 2021

Second Circuit Holds that Requiring Teachers to Submit a Letter from a Religious Leader in Support of a Request for a Reasonable Accommodation is Unconstitutional

The 15 public school teachers who challenged New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate live to fight another day in court.

The teachers have refused to comply with the City’s mandate arguing that compliance with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is a violation of their religious rights under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

The Court determined that the reasonable accommodation standards in the City's vaccine mandate was unconstitutional as applied to the 15 teachers because the mandate required employees who requested a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate to submit a letter from a religious leader confirming the validity of the employee's religious beliefs. If the religious leader had well-documented public comments in support of taking the vaccine, the request for exemptions would be denied.

The Court reasoned as follows:

Denying an individual a religious accommodation based on someone else's publicly expressed religious views-even the leader of her faith-runs afoul of the Supreme Court's teaching that "[i]t is not within the judicial ken to question the centrality of particular beliefs or practices to a faith, or the validity of particular litigants' interpretations of those creeds."

However, the Court declined to extend protections against the mandate to all teachers stating that the mandate itself was "a reasonable exercise of the state's power to act to protect the public health."

Based on this decision, employers should only consider the employee's specific religious beliefs (in determining whether they are "sincerely held") when processing a reasonable accommodation request. Someone else's belief  - even if it is a religious leader - is irrelevant. 

Thursday, November 04, 2021

OSHA Releases Details/Requirements of Employer Vaccine Mandate

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") issued its long awaited emergency temporary standard requiring all private sector employers with 100 or more employees ("covered employers") to "develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy." OSHA issued separate rules for federal contractors/subcontractors and health care workers.

The OSHA rules require all covered employers to ensure their employees are vaccinated by January 4, 2022 or undergo weekly testing for COVID-19 and wear face coverings while at work (There is no testing option for health care workers).

Employers do not have to require employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly if they: 1) report to a workplace where no other individuals are present; 2) work entirely from home; or 3) work exclusively outdoors. In addition, the rules provide for a reasonable accommodation for employees who have a disability or sincerely held religious belief (where there is no undue hardship to the employer).

The rules also require covered employers to do the following:

  • obtain and preserve records of employee vaccination/testing which must be provided to employees, employee representatives and OSHA upon request;
  • provide employees with up to four (4) hours of paid time off to receive their vaccine dose(s);
  • provide reasonable time off and paid sick leave for employees to recover from side effects experienced from receiving the vaccine;
  • require employees to notify the employer when they are diagnosed with COVID-19 and remove all employees who are positive from the workplace until they meet certain criteria;
  • require all unvaccinated employees as of December 5, 2021 to wear masks (they must be vaccinated by January 4, 2022). 
  • report all COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA;

Aside from the vaccination/weekly testing requirements, all of the other rules take effect on December 5, 2021. Covered employers should, thus, immediately work with counsel to begin creating and implementing a policy in compliance with these new rules. Covered employers who fail to comply with these rules can face fines in the amount of $13,653 per violation or $136,532 per violation if the conduct is willful or repeated. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Fake News Alert - TX & Abbott with Employer Anti-Vaccine Mandate

Everywhere you look, the media is saying TX isn't permitting employer vaccine mandates, but that is NOT what is happening. To be clear, vaccine mandates are still permissible in TX. 

You can read Governor Abbott's Executive Order GA-40 here

As you can clearly see, all the Order prohibits are vaccine mandates that do not provide a mechanism for those who object to the "vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19." 

This is almost entirely consistent with existing law and how, just about, every court case is shaking out with respect to vaccine mandates, with a few minor wrinkles that can't be ignored. The two wrinkles in the Order are:

  1. Not utilizing the term "sincerely held" prior to "religious beliefs," which thereby seems to expand the standard in protecting religion, which doesn't appear legally problematic; and, 
  2. Misstating the disability / handicap prong. 
    • Under existing disability / handicap law, an accommodation is never available just because the existence of a disability / handicap renders the policy (i.e., vaccination) unnecessary, which appears to be the intention of the wording where it states, "including prior recovery from COVID-19." 
    • Instead, under existing law, an accommodation is only available where a disability or handicap requires an accommodation for equality to exist. Stated otherwise, one needs a qualifying disability to receive an accommodation in the first instance, without it, there is nothing to accommodate. 
    • To be clear, under existing law, having had recovered from COVID-19 is NOT a disability that is recognized. We wonder how this aspect of the Order will shake out and more so, how the Supremacy Clause will shake out if / when the Federal Government responds.  

Do you see the distinction? Does the distinction matter?

Monday, June 21, 2021

Second Circuit Dismisses Discrimination Lawsuit by African American Firefighters Seeking an Accommodation to Grow Facial Hair

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit of New York recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by four African American firefighters, pursuant to the American with Disabilities Act, claiming that the FDNY discriminated against them by denying their request for a reasonable accommodation to grow facial hair.

In Bey et al. v. City of New York et al., the four African American firefighters suffered from pseudofolliculitis barbae ("PFB"), a skin condition most commonly affecting African American males, which causes skin irritation after shaving (The lower court previously dismissed the plaintiffs race discrimination claims). The Second Circuit ruled that the FDNY did not discriminate against the firefighters because they were abiding by a binding safety regulation requiring firefighters to be clean shaven in areas where a respirator seals against the skin on their faces. The Court further stated that any challenge to this regulation should be directed to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), not their employer. 

Do you agree with the decision? 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Proposed Regulation as to Notice of Tenants’ Rights to Reasonable Modifications and Accommodations for Persons with Disabilities

We just got some guidance from the State as to a law that became effective March 2, 2021 about noticing tenants of their rights to reasonable modifications / accommodations under the Human Rights Law.  To learn about the law, read our blog from that date here. After the law was passed, it was than repealed and replaced. To learn about the repeal and replace, read our blog here

The repealed and replaced version of the law stated that "The Division of Human Rights shall promulgate regulations." 

Today, we learned about those proposed regulations, which will be set forth at 9 NYCRR 466.15 when effective. 

Some interesting highlights are:

  • The notice shall be in 14 point font;
  • The notice can be emailed; 
  • The notice can (AND SHOULD) be included in a lease; &
  • The notice "must be included with any posting, listing, advertisement, brochure, prospectus, rental application, proposed lease or other similar communication about an available housing accommodation."

The proposed regulation reads as follows:

466.15 Provision of notice by housing providers of tenants’ rights to reasonable modifications and accommodations for persons with disabilities. 

(a) Statutory Authority. Pursuant to N.Y. Executive Law section 295.5, it is a power and a duty of the Division to adopt, promulgate, amend and rescind suitable rules and regulations to carry out the provisions of the N.Y. Executive Law, article 15 (Human Rights Law) and pursuant to New York Executive Law section 170-d, the New York State Division of Human Rights “shall promulgate regulations requiring every housing provider …to provide notice to all tenants and prospective tenants … of their rights to request reasonable modifications and accommodations” as such rights are provided for in Human Rights Law sections 296.2-a(d) and section 296.18.

(b) Effective date. Executive Law section 170-d was effective March 2, 2021, pursuant to the Laws of 2021, chapter 82, section 4, by reference to the Laws of 2020, chapter 311. 

(c) Definitions. 

(1) “Housing provider” shall mean: 

(i) “the owner, lessee, sub-lessee, assignee, or managing agent of, or other person having the right to sell, rent or lease a housing accommodation, constructed or to be constructed, or any agent or employee thereof” as set forth in New York Executive Law, article 15 (hereinafter “Human Rights Law”) section 296.5; or 

(ii) “the owner, lessee, sub-lessee, assignee, or managing agent of publicly-assisted housing accommodations or other person having the right of ownership or possession of or the right to rent or lease such accommodations” as set forth in Human Rights Law section 296.2-a. 

(2) “Housing accommodation” includes “any building, structure, or portion thereof which is used or occupied or is intended, arranged or designed to be used or occupied, as the home, residence or sleeping place of one or more human beings” as set forth in Human Rights Law section 292.10. 

(3) “Publicly-assisted housing accommodations” shall include: 

(i) “public housing” as set forth in Human Rights Law section 292.10(a); 

(ii) “housing operated by housing companies under the supervision of the commissioner of housing” as set forth in Human Rights Law section 292.10(b); or 

(iii) other publicly-assisted housing as described in Human Rights Law section 292.10(c), (d) and (e). 

(4) “Property Manager” as referenced in the sample notice is an individual housing provider, or such person as the housing provider designates for the purpose of receiving requests for reasonable accommodation. 

(5) “Reasonable modifications or accommodations” shall refer to those actions required by Human Rights Law section 296.2-a(d) and Human Rights Law section 296.18, which makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for a housing provider or publicly-assisted housing provider: 

(i) To refuse to permit, at the expense of the person with a disability, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by the said person, if the modifications may be necessary to afford the said person full enjoyment of the premises, in conformity with the provisions of the New York state uniform fire prevention and building code, except that, in the case of a rental, the landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the renter’s agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted.

(ii) To refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including the use of an animal as a reasonable accommodation to alleviate symptoms or effects of a disability, and including reasonable modification to common use portions of the dwelling, or

(iii) In connection with the design and construction of covered multi-family dwellings for first occupancy after March thirteenth, nineteen hundred ninety-one, a failure to design and construct dwellings in accordance with the accessibility requirements of the New York state uniform fire prevention and building code, to provide that:

(a) The public use and common use portions of the dwellings are readily accessible to and usable by disabled persons with disabilities;

(b) All the doors are designed in accordance with the New York state uniform fire prevention and building code to allow passage into and within all premises and are sufficiently wide to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs; and

(c) All premises within covered multi-family dwelling units contain an accessible route into and through the dwelling; light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls are in accessible locations; there are reinforcements in the bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars; and there are usable kitchens and bathrooms such that an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver about the space, in conformity with the New York state uniform fire prevention and building code.

(d) Actions required by Executive Law section 170-d. 

(1) Housing providers must provide notice, as provided for in this regulation, to all tenants and prospective tenants: 

(i) within 30 days after the effective date of their tenancy; 

(ii) for current tenants, within thirty days after the effective date of Executive Law section 170-d;

(iii) for prospective tenants, see below (d)(5) regarding how to provide notice for available housing accommodations.

(2) The notice is to advise individuals of their right to request reasonable modifications and accommodations for disability pursuant to Human Rights Law section 296.2-a(d) (publicly-assisted housing) or Human Rights Law section 296.18 (private housing).

(3) Such notice shall be in writing, shall be in 14 point or other easily legible font.

(4) New and current tenants. Such notice must be provided individually to all new and current tenants, and shall be provided in the following manner: 

(i) by electronic transmission (e.g. email) if electronic transmission is available and can be directed to the individual to be notified, or

(ii) by providing a paper notice to the individual, if electronic transmission is not available, and

(iii) may be accomplished by including the notice in or with other written communications, such as a lease or other written materials routinely provided to tenants.

(iv) “Posting” of the notice, either on paper on a bulletin board, or on an electronic bulletin board or notice area, or by providing a link to such posting, shall not be sufficient notice.

(5) Notice with regard to available housing accommodations.

(i) Such notice must be included with any posting, listing, advertisement, brochure, prospectus, rental application, proposed lease or other similar communication about an available housing accommodation.

(ii) Where such communication is by electronic means other than email, the notice may be included by providing a link to a page containing the notice language. The link must be clearly identified as linking to the “Notice disclosing tenants’ rights to reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.” The notice must be available for printing and downloading.

(iii) Where such communication is in paper form, the notice must be included within such communication, or by providing the notice in an accompanying document.

(iv) Where such communication is sent by email, such email shall include the notice, either in the body of the email or in an attachment.

(e) Content of the required notice. The following shall be deemed sufficient notice when provided to the individual to be notified.


Reasonable Accommodations

The New York State Human Rights Law requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations or modifications to a building or living space to meet the needs of people with disabilities. 

For example, if you have a physical, mental, or medical impairment, you can ask your housing provider to make the common areas of your building accessible, or to change certain policies to meet your needs.

To request a reasonable accommodation, you should contact your property manager by calling ——— or ———, or by e-mailing ———. You will need to show your housing provider that you have a disability or health problem that interferes with your use of housing, and that your request for accommodation may be necessary to provide you equal access and opportunity to use and enjoy your housing or the amenities and services normally offered by your housing provider. If you believe that you have been denied a reasonable accommodation for your disability, or that you were denied housing or retaliated against because you requested a reasonable accommodation, you can file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights as described at the end of this notice. 

Specifically, if you have a physical, mental, or medical impairment, you can request:*

Permission to change the interior of your housing unit to make it accessible (however, you are required to pay for these modifications, and in the case of a rental your housing provider may require that you restore the unit to its original condition when you move out); 

Changes to your housing provider’s rules, policies, practices, or services;

Changes to common areas of the building so you have an equal opportunity to use the building. The New York State Human Rights Law requires housing providers to pay for reasonable modifications to common use areas.

Examples of reasonable modifications and accommodations that may be requested under the New York State Human Rights Law include:

If you have a mobility impairment, your housing provider may be required to provide you with a ramp or other reasonable means to permit you to enter and exit the building.

If your doctor provides documentation that having an animal will assist with your disability, you should be permitted to have the animal in your home despite a “no pet” rule.

If you need grab bars in your bathroom, you can request permission to install them at your own expense. If your housing was built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 and the walls need to be reinforced for grab bars, your housing provider must pay for that to be done.

If you have an impairment that requires a parking space close to your unit, you can request your housing provider to provide you with that parking space, or place you at the top of a waiting list if no adjacent spot is available.

If you have a visual impairment and require printed notices in an alternative format such as large print font, or need notices to be made available to you electronically, you can request that accommodation from your landlord.

Required Accessibility Standards

All buildings constructed for use after March 13, 1991, are required to meet the following standards:

Public and common areas must be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities;

All doors must be sufficiently wide to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs; and

All multi-family buildings must contain accessible passageways, fixtures, outlets, thermostats, bathrooms, and kitchens.

If you believe that your building does not meet the required accessibility standards, you can file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

How to File a Complaint

A complaint must be filed with the Division within one year of the alleged discriminatory act. You can find more information on your rights, and on the procedures for filing a complaint, by going to, or by calling 1-888-392-3644 with questions about your rights. You can obtain a complaint form on the website, or one can be e-mailed or mailed to you. You can also call or e-mail a Division regional office. The regional offices are listed on the website.

* This Notice provides information about your rights under the New York State Human Rights Law, which applies to persons residing anywhere in New York State. Local laws may provide protections in addition to those described in this Notice, but local laws cannot decrease your protections.

You have until June 13, 2021 to comment on these proposed regulations by emailing:

Here are our comments for your inspiration:
  • The * is good, but should be additionally included at subsections (c)(5)(i) & (e) at the line “[p]ermission to change the interior of your housing unit to make it accessible (however, you are required to pay for these modifications, and in the case of a rental your housing provider may require that you restore the unit to its original condition when you move out);” 
  • (d)(5)(i) is cost prohibitive to accomplish with respect to postings, listings, and advertisements; a hyperlink address should be all that is necessary (even in printed form, not just by way of (3)(5)(ii)'s permission for electronic communications), or nothing at all for printed postings, listings, and advertisements;
  • (e) 
    • Provide for similar notices so that the notice language can be changed to identify additional rights in locales that so provide (i.e., include a line like in DHR's original notice that provided "[a]ny other notice used by a housing provider must comply with the requirements of the law.");
    • The line “[y]ou will need to show your housing provider that you have a disability or health problem,” should be expanded to explain what a housing provider can and cannot ask for as proof; 
    • The line “[i]f your doctor provides documentation that having an animal…,” should be changed to healthcare provider as a broader array of professional can provide the documentation beyond doctors. 
    • The section on “how to file a complaint,” should include the statute of limitations for a court case and that a tenant can hire a private attorney with attorneys’ fees being payable by the landlord to enforce their rights. 
Do you agree with our comments? What are your comments? 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

UPDATE on New Tenant Disclosure Form on Reasonable Modification and Accommodation

As an update on our BLOG on the new law requiring a disclosure form on reasonable modifications and accommodations, Governor Cuomo just signed Senate Bill S867 which removes the requirement that all landlords conspicuously post the disclosure form in all vacant listings. According to the New York State Senate website, “this measure was seen as an excessive mandate on landlords and difficult to enforce uniformly.”

Also, the new law is now under Section 170-d of the Executive Law. It was previously passed under Section 296 of the New York State Human Rights Law. This change means the failure to serve the disclosure form is no longer a listed discriminatory practice under the New York State Human Rights Law. Thus, it is unclear whether any penalty or enforcement is available on the new law or if it is just another lip service law.

As to the disclosure form itself, you can now access the New York State Division of Human Rights’ published disclosure form HERE.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Don’t Fire Your Employee for Taking Opioids so Fast – Lawsuit Alert

On August 5, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance explaining exposure to a discrimination lawsuit for employers who fire their staff for taking opioids.

To avoid being sued, employers must take the following steps upon discovering that an employee is taking opioids:

1. Determine if the opioid use is legal or illegal.
  • The ADA allows employers to terminate employees, or take other measures, based on the illegal use of opioids. However, legal or prescriptive opioid use cannot be a ground for automatic disqualification and employers must consider a way for the employee to do the job “safely and effectively” 
  • Employees who test positive to a drug test must also be given an opportunity to provide information about their legal drug use that may cause a drug result to show opioid use. The employer can ask the employee before the test is done if he/she is taking any such medication or the employer can ask all employees who test positive for an explanation. Such should be established by protocol and implemented consistently. 

2. Provide Reasonable Accommodations.
  • Employees who legally use opioids must be given a reasonable accommodation before getting fired or not considered for a position. This also applies to employees who have a history of opioid, or treatment for opioid addiction, which an employer thinks can interfere with safe and effective job performance.
  • Employees may also request a reasonable accommodation from taking prescription opioids to treat pain or from having other medical conditions related to opioid addiction as long as the condition is a disability under the ADA.
  • It is the employees’ responsibility to request a reasonable accommodation and employers cannot legally fire or refuse to hire or promote an employee for making the request. A request protocol should be established and applied consistently.
  • Employers must provide the reasonable accommodation if it does not involve significant difficulty or expense.

3. If an employee cannot do the job safely and effectively even after being provided with a reasonable accommodation, document objective evidence that the employee poses a significant risk of substantial harm. An employee cannot be removed for remote or speculative risks.

4. It is recommended that employers engage in an interactive process, as required in NYC, prior to making any final determinations. Failing to sue interact can be, in itself, the basis of exposure. To understand further, see our blog, 5 Step Process For Employers/Landlords to Protect Against Disability Discrimination Lawsuits for Failure to Accommodate.

You can access EEOC’s guidance HERE and HERE.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

5 Step Process For Employers/Landlords to Protect Against Disability Discrimination Lawsuits for Failure to Accommodate

A recent New York State, Appellate Division case (Hosking v. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) serves as a reminder to employers and landlords that they may be exposed to disability discrimination lawsuits if they do not engage in an "interactive process" prior to denying a reasonable accommodation request, even if the ultimate decision denying the accommodation is legal. As detailed in the above referenced case, a court will not even reach the step of determining whether the denial of the accommodation is legal if the employer/landlord fails to follow the proper process in evaluating the request.

To mitigate exposure to disability discrimination lawsuits (for failure to accommodate), employers/landlords should follow these steps:

1) Disseminate Policy: Employers/landlords should inform employees/tenants, in writing, that reasonable accommodations are provided to qualified individuals and of the process to request a reasonable accommodation. Employers should include its reasonable accommodation policy in its employee handbook and landlords should include its reasonable accommodation policy in its application and/or make the policy available onsite.

2) Provide Reasonable Accommodation Request Form: Employers/landlords should prepare a form for individuals requesting an accommodation to complete. Questions on the request form should include:
  • General information of employee/tenant (i.e. name, contact information)
  • Nature of the disability
  • Requested/suggested accommodation(s) 
3) Review and Discuss with Employee/Tenant:
  • Review accommodation request
  • Request supporting medical documentation if necessary from employee/tenant to properly evaluate request 
  • Discuss effectiveness/feasibility/reasonableness of potential accommodation(s) with employee/tenant  
4) Analyze Whether an Undue Hardship Exists: Employers/landlords are not required to provide an accommodation if providing such accommodation would present an undue hardship. Elements an employer/landlord should analyze include:
  • Cost of the accommodation
  • Resources of the employer/landlord
  • Impact on operation of workplace/facility
5) Draft Determination Letter and Submit to Employee/Tenant: The letter should include:
  • A summary of the interactive process
  • The accommodation provided
  • If an accommodation is denied, provide a detailed explanation (e.g. absence of an accommodation that would permit employee to perform essential functions of position, undue hardship)
  • If accommodation request is granted, a date to follow up on effectiveness of accommodation

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

FedEx Ground Agrees to Pay $3.3 Million to Settle Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued a press release today announcing that it entered into a consent decree with FedEx Ground to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers and applicants to those positions alleging that FedEx Ground denied deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers reasonable accommodations and denied applicants employment because of their hearing related disabilities.

The consent decree entitles the 229 aggrieved individuals to a share of the $3.3 million settlement. In addition, the settlement requires FedEx Ground to provide accommodations to deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers including access to live and video remote sign language interpreting, closed captioning on videos and provision of non-audible cues (i.e. vibration) on scanning equipment. Finally, the consent decree requires that FedEx Ground institute safety measures to protect hearing compromised package handlers including ensuring that motorized equipment include visual warning lights and providing personal notification devices that will notify hearing compromised handlers of an emergency.

This settlement should serve as a reminder to employers to ensure that procedures are in place for employees to request a reasonable accommodation and that accomodation requests are granted to the extent that they are reasonable and can assist employees in performing the essential functions of their positions.