Some New Jersey employers don’t fully realize that it’s far easier for an employee to claim disability under state law than it is under the ADA. And if an employer underestimates its state obligations, it might fail to accommodate the employee. And that probably means a lawsuit.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) says an employee is disabled if a medical condition “prevents the normal exercise of any bodily or mental functions.” The law includes a wide range of conditions such as epilepsy, autism, visual impairments—in fact, just about any physical or mental disorder. It’s far broader than the ADA, which only covers conditions that substantially impair a major life function.
Recent case: Jose Frias returned to work following a stroke and shoulder surgery. He had severe pain that limited his ability to stack pallets. He also claimed that his injured shoulder interfered with his ability to wipe himself after using the toilet.
When Frias sued under the NJLAD, the court ordered a jury trial to determine if his employer wrongly discriminated against him because he was disabled.
Essentially, the court said that his limited shoulder motion was a physical infirmity that prevented the normal exercise of a bodily function. Plus, the court said he didn’t need experts to testify about his condition, since there was nothing complex involved. He has pain in his shoulder that prevented him from doing things most people can do, and a jury won’t need an expert to explain or counter that. (Frias v. John Company, et al., No. 09-1360, DC NJ, 2010)
Final note: It’s often easier to provide an accommodation than to fight over whether someone is disabled under NJLAD. Many accommodations are free or inexpensive. Litigation is not.