Employment laws in New Jersey and around the country protect workers from discrimination by their employers on the basis of disability. Both state and federal law define “disability” broadly to include a wide range of conditions, including injuries, illnesses, and congenital conditions. After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning more about the long-term effects of the disease on some people. These conditions, often known as “long-haul COVID” or simply “long COVID,” can include symptoms affecting people’s respiratory, neurological, digestive, and reproductive systems, among others. Laws addressing disability discrimination in the workplace may protect people suffering from long COVID. Not only would employers be barred from disparate treatment due to long COVID symptoms, but they would also be obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for those symptoms.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of disability. The NJLAD’s definition of “disability” includes a “physical…disability…[or] infirmity…which is caused by…illness.” The statute lists many specific conditions across a broad range, such as visual or hearing impairments, paralysis, autism spectrum disorder, and HIV infection or AIDS. The initial language regarding “illness,” however, suggests that the long-term impact of disease also qualifies as a disability.
The ADA specifically states that courts and others should construe its definition of “disability” “in favor of broad coverage of individuals…to the maximum extent permitted by the” statute. It defines the term, in part, as a “physical…impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” including “walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, [and] breathing.”