On January 7, 2021, Delegate Mark Sickles, Chairman of the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee, introduced HB 1848 as an amendment to Virginia’s Human Rights Act in order to protect individuals with disabilities from employment, housing, and public accommodations discrimination. Chief co-patrons to HB 1848 are Delegates Danica Roem, Mark Levine, and Dawn Adams. This bill, unanimously approved by the subcommittee on January 14, 2021, adds individuals with disabilities as a protected class in the existing act, codifies the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 into Virginia’s regulatory code, and mandates employer accommodations for individuals with disabilities as outlined below.
Employers with six or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities who require such accommodations to perform their job responsibilities. Employers may not penalize prospective and/or current employees for asking for accommodations, or deny opportunities for employment and/or promotions due to the need to make such accommodations. Additionally, they may not ask employees to take a leave of absence in lieu of making reasonable accommodations.
Unless the employer can provide documentation that show accommodations would impose undue hardships, they must comply. A hardship is determined based on the impact it has on the conduct of the employer’s business, the size of the facility, the scope and cost of the required accommodations, the likelihood of other employees using the accommodations, and the safety and health considerations of all employees and the public. The employer may choose an effective accommodation, and is not required to make accommodations to the entire building. Any employer who denies the right of individuals with disabilities to have reasonable accommodations made in order for them to properly carry out the functions of their jobs, risks having compensatory damages, back pay and other equitable relief charges filed against them.
The employer accommodations and mandates set forth in this bill were created to protect individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination, including those who are qualified to perform the duties of a job but require accommodations to so. These protections will help ensure Virginians have equitable access to the pursuit and growth of their careers, and will not be discriminated against on the basis of their disability.
"HB 1848 amends last year’s Virginia’s Values Act to make sure Virginians of all abilities can fully participate in our economy if reasonable accommodations can be made in the workplace. Virginia should be a place for all people, regardless of ability, to live and work free from discrimination," said Mr. Sickles in a press statement.
Colleen Miller, Executive Director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, a huge proponent of this bill, stated, "The bill was unanimously approved by subcommittee this morning, so we are very pleased. As you might know, people with disabilities struggle to find meaningful employment. While there are many reasons for that, with a bill like 1848, at least discrimination will not be one of those reasons!"
The passage of this bill will be a victory for workers with disabilities in Virginia, and will help ensure people with all abilities are able to access and maintain gainful employment.