October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. At StaffScapes, we wanted to bring to you information regarding disability awareness, what is considered a disability and some statistics regarding employment of disabled workers. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires all employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified disabled individuals with the same employment-related opportunities as their non-disabled co-workers. Discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and any other related act of employment is prohibited. An employer is not allowed to ask disability related questions during an interview and are required to make reasonable accommodations upon hiring for known physical or mental conditions unless doing so would cause an undue hardship on the employer.
Today, over 20 percent of the American workforce is considered disabled according to a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report. Persons who are disabled account for 13.9 percent of the unemployment rates compared to just 8 percent of their non-disabled counterparts. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the ADA, a disability is defined and quoted as follows:
“an individual is considered to have a “disability” if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Persons discriminated against because they have a known association or relationship with an individual with a disability also are protected.
The first part of the definition makes clear that the ADA applies to persons who have impairments and that these must substantially limit major life activities such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working. An individual with epilepsy, paralysis, HIV infection, AIDS, a substantial hearing or visual impairment, mental retardation, or a specific learning disability is covered, but an individual with a minor, non-chronic condition of short duration, such as a sprain, broken limb, or the flu, generally would not be covered.
The second part of the definition protecting individuals with a record of a disability would cover, for example, a person who has recovered from cancer or mental illness.
The third part of the definition protects individuals who are regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment, even though they may not have such an impairment. For example, this provision would protect a qualified individual with a severe facial disfigurement from being denied employment because an employer feared the “negative reactions” of customers or co-workers.”
So what should employers and employees do? For employers, we recommend having detailed job descriptions that indicate the essential job functions. We often see small businesses without descriptions and by not clearly stating the core requirements for the job, they are unable to prove their needs when asked. In addition, SHRM recommends making accommodations for the employee and working with them to manage their disability so that they may be successful at their job. This may include providing standing desks, flexible schedules, work from home alternatives and time-off for medical related appointments. This is where having job descriptions becomes a critical need for the owners when determining accommodations and what may or may not be a hardship for the business. For employees, they should be aware of their rights and have productive conversations with their employers if their condition will impact the business and/or the safety of the employee or other employees around them. They should provide information on what to do in an emergency and whom to contact in the event of a situation.
Working together, businesses and employees with disabilities can achieve positive results that are beneficial to both parties. StaffScapes is a Professional Employer Organization, PEO that specializes in all areas of employment, including benefits, employee relations, risk management and payroll. To learn more about our services, please visit www.StaffScapes.com or contact us at 303-466-7864 or info@StaffScapes.com.