On October 15, 2018, an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), which requires all New York City employers with four or more employees to engage in a “cooperative dialogue” with individuals who may be entitled to various accommodations, went into effect.
The NYCHRL requires covered employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees who request an accommodation related to: (1) disability; (2) religious beliefs; (3) pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition; or (4) being a victim of domestic violence, sex offenses or stalking.
The law does not expand the circumstances in which an employer must provide accommodations to employees. However, the procedures for which employers need to apply when an employee requests an accommodation must now be given serious consideration.
Under the law, a “cooperative dialogue” is defined as: a “process by which a covered entity and a person entitled to an accommodation, or who may be entitled to an accommodation under the law, engage in good faith in a written or oral dialogue concerning the person’s accommodations needs; potential accommodations that may address the person’s accommodation needs, including alternatives to a requested accommodation; and the difficulties that such potential accommodations may pose for the covered entity.”
These “good faith” written or oral discussions are required to continue until the request for an accommodation can be granted or denied. Once the cooperative dialogue is completed, the NYCHRL now requires employers to compose a written report determining whether the accommodation has been granted or denied. The report should either grant the employee a reasonable accommodation, or conclude that: (1) no accommodation can be made without an undue hardship to the employer; (2) a reasonable accommodation was offered to the employee but rejected by the employee; or (3) no accommodation exists that will allow the employee to perform the essential duties of the job. The employer needs to provide a copy of the report to the employee. Employers may not deny an accommodation unless the employer has engaged, or attempted to engage, in a cooperative dialogue with the employee.
While most employers have protocols for handling accommodation requests, this new law imposes great burdens to ensure a cooperative dialogue occurs between the employer and employee when an accommodation request is made, even if the request is unreasonable. Employers who “refuse or otherwise fail to engage in a cooperative dialogue within a reasonable time” with an employee who requests an accommodation will risk a possible human rights charge.