HR Alert: Workers With Disabilities

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The employment rate for people with disabilities is half of that for able-bodied workers. The New York State Assembly is trying to tackle this issue with a new package of bills that heighten resources for workers with disabilities. Let’s explore what these bills contain and how we can use them as guidance for our own businesses.

What exactly did the Assembly pass?

Recently, Speaker Carl Heastie and Committee on People with Disabilities Chair Rebecca A. Seawright announced the passage of a legislation package in the New York State Assembly. This package aimed to ensure and expand rights and protections for New Yorkers with disabilities. It includes a few bills about expanding resources in New York as well as two pieces of legislation specifically about employing people with disabilities. These are Bill A05815B and A06397A. We’ll explain just what these bills entail and what it means for employers around our State.

What’s Bill A05815B?

Bill A05815B, sponsored by Assemblymember Harvey Epstein from the East Side of Manhattan, expands the reporting duties of State agencies and contractors. These agencies no longer simply have to report the existence of disabled employees – but must also detail the extent. This means they must report the utilization of and participation in work, both from service and commodity contracts, of workers with disabilities. This will likely look like reporting how many workers with disabilities each agency has and what title they hold. The reporting chain is as follows:

Contractors → Agencies → Office of General Services → State Procurement Council, Governor, Comptroller, and the Legislature

The goal of the bill is to increase the data we have on the actual participation of workers with disabilities in our State. Increased data is intended to highlight problems and inequities so that State resources can be effectively implemented to create a more equitable, diverse workforce.

What’s Bill A06397A?

Bill A06397A, sponsored by Assemblymember Chris Burdick, creates a taskforce to promote employment for people with disabilities within State agencies. The task force is to be used to actively promote employment by breaking down barriers and ensure all New York residents have access to a well-paying job.  

What’s next in the legislative process?

This package of bills was recently passed in the Assembly. This means the bills already have been created by the Bill Drafting Commission, brought to a corresponding Assembly committee and approved, approved by the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for funding, and approved by the entire Assembly. However, the legislative process isn’t done yet.

In order to become New York State law, the bills now will go to the Senate and travel through a similar process, where State Senators will deliberate, edit, and vote on the bills. Only after they’ve been considered – and passed – by both the State Assembly and Senate will they get to the Governor’s desk for her to sign.

What does this mean for New York employers?

Remember, these bills aren’t laws yet. If they become law, they’ll increase reporting duties for only State agencies and companies that contract with the State. But even if you don’t have to report your company’s data, you can look to these bills as guidance on best practices concerning employees with disabilities.

New York wants to be a leader for prioritizing the employment of workers with disabilities. Research shows that even while employed, employees with disabilities often have lower wages, are underemployed, are involuntarily part-time, or have contingent (uncertain) employment. As well-informed employers and human resources professionals know, disability status is a protected class under the New York Human Rights Law as well as under Title VII. Disability is protected, along with race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, and more. If an employer doesn’t respect employees with regards to these traits, they can be subject to a lawsuit.

As employers, it’s important to treat employees the same, despite any differences in abilities. It’s key to embrace the differences among team members to create a diverse, effective workplace, and to avoid any potential adverse consequences.

Assemblymember Epstein said soon after his bill was passed:

“People with disabilities experience significant barriers to employment and we must ensure New York State is leading on this issue. Our state is better when its employees reflect the diversity of its population.”

If you have questions about how to stay in compliance regarding workers with disabilities, reach out to The Coppola Firm. We can help you! We’re easily reached at either 716.839.9700 or info@coppolalegal.com.

 

Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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