On August 2, Andy Sherrod was quoted in a Risk & Insurance article on the importance of compliance with state disability laws in addition to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
While the ADA establishes federal law for workplace discrimination on the basis of disability, many states have enacted their own laws that may establish different or additional requirements that employers operating in those states must follow. “I think a mindset within some employers, even ones that operate in multiple states, has been to default to compliance with the federal law, sometimes with the false assumption that they’ll also be in compliance with the local laws,” he said.
This is especially the case for those operating in states with more liberal state legislatures, such as Virginia, which has expanded benefits for employees with disabilities. For example, a new law took effect July 1 adding “disability” to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination under the Virginia Human Rights Act.
While state law discrimination claims have been slow in recent months due to the pandemic, Sherrod anticipates an increase on the horizon. “My anticipation is we’re going to see a lot more Virginia state court litigation for Virginia employers,” Sherrod said. “It’s going to be more expensive, because if you can’t settle it early on [due to lack of summary judgment], the only option is going to be a full-blown jury trial.”
To mitigate risk, Sherrod says employers need to pay close attention to making reasonable accommodations for person with disabilities. Under federal law, accommodations are defined as any change to a job, the work environment or ways things are usually done that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions or enjoy equal access to benefits available to others in the workplace.
Documentation is also key in discussing reasonable accommodations with employees, as in almost all employee matters. “I counsel my business clients to document, document, document in these situations,” Sherrod said. “If an employee will sign off on the understanding between the parties on what reasonable accommodation will be made, that will certainly help reduce risk.”
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