Disability in the Workplace
COVID-19 qualifies as a disability in New York City based on the New York City Human Rights Law.
Furthermore, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) applies to owners with four or more employees. The determination of employer size includes the owner and natural persons working as independent contractors.
The Disability Definition for COVID-19
Actual or perceived infection with Covid-19 is a disability, according to the NYC Commission. Therefore, under the law, employers cannot harass or discriminate against employees with COVID-19 or with a perceived history of COVID-19. This includes employees who have contracted or are more likely to contract COVID-19 due to race, religion, national origin, disability or any other protected status.
In addition to protection under the NYCHRL, the Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (reissued on March 21, 2020) also provide guidance for regulations that employers must follow.
What Precautions Should Employers Take Based on the Fact that COVID-19 Qualifies as a Disability?
Employers must ensure their practices and policies in response to the pandemic do not result in discrimination. Based on protected status, they cannot treat workers less well. This includes actions taken out of benevolence. For example, excluding workplace employees who are 65 or older because they are at a higher health risk if contracting COVID-19 could be a form of age discrimination. You cannot lay off such workers based on age. However, employers can make accommodations to keep workers safe. Accommodations might include:
- Making telework optional for all staff
- Staggering work schedules
- Adjusting workplace layout by adding barriers for social distancing
- Providing personal protective equipment