In recent decades, the United States has certainly made tremendous strides toward social, legal, and vocational equality for its many diverse peoples. However, there are apparently numerous employees throughout the nation who assert that there is still much to be done on that front—particularly when it comes to disabilities.
How do we know this? Just this past July, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saw more than 80 discrimination lawsuits filed by disabled workers claiming that employers mistreated them either individually or as a whole. The numbers keep piling up, too. In September 2017, there were triple the number of disability-related lawsuits that occurred in September 2016.
Where is This Coming From?
Back in 2016, the EEOC updated its Strategic Enforcement Plan to use its considerable resources to push better systems and policies for companies that don’t treat all of their employees equally. In addition to disability, the EEOC was concerned with addressing issues with harassment and unfair wages, as well as protecting groups like immigrants/migrants, pregnant women, the elderly, and members of the LGBT community.
Maybe you think that you don’t need to worry about this, but it wouldn’t hurt to be extra cautious and aware of what’s happening in your company—especially with regard to how disabled workers are being treated, since the EEOC is focusing on that after all the lawsuits this summer. If the EEOC finds you guilty of discrimination, a lengthy process of conciliation will ensue. It begins with a Letter of Determination, moves into mediating a voluntary resolution between you and the offended party, and ensuring that the terms upon which you agreed are properly carried out.
What Can You Do?
With the recent rise in lawsuits from disabled workers, let’s focus on what you can do to make sure that you’re within the parameters of the EEOC as you accommodate them. Do simple things, like giving them gifts or cards that let them feel valued. However, the more complicated (and necessary) actions include helping them keep their benefits, work a flexible schedule, and/or provide a safe environment for them—all according to their needs.
Of course, many people develop disabilities after they’ve already been hired for a job, but that’s not always the case. You can’t refuse to hire someone simply because they’re disabled, but it’s good to find out if they’re physically or mentally capable of performing the necessary functions of the job for which they’re applying. Ask them specific questions that tell you whether they can. For example, if the job requires heavy lifting, certain typing speeds, or a fixed set of hours, request that they explain whether they consider themselves able to perform those functions. Some items can be verified through a background check and interviews with references.
As long as they fit the bill and seem like the best candidate for the job, hire them—just be prepared to ensure that they’re accommodated for their disability so that you’re properly following the guidelines laid out by the EEOC.
Beyond the Law
This isn’t just about the EEOC, though. Disabled employees can offer contributions as valuable as able-bodied employees; that should be acknowledged regardless of law. Simply put, disability adds diversity and unique perspectives, which is wonderful not only on a purely human level, but on a business one, too; after all, some of your customers will be disabled, too, and having experience with disable employees can help you develop and market your products from multiple angles. Also, reasonable accommodation often costs less than hiring a new employee altogether, and disabled employees are likely to stay in their positions for longer periods of time than others.
The EEOC only tells you that you can’t discriminate against protected groups, including disabled people. Whether you as a company understand their worth independent of the EEOC is up you.
Check for the Best
With regard to background checks, your agency of choice should do everything within its power to assure you that the applicant you want to hire is capable of performing the job—regardless of disability. You won’t ask direct questions in your applications, and you won’t immediately throw out any application that you suspect was filled out by a disabled person; now you need to know that you can trust your background check agency to be just as impartial and fair. Again, you can never be too careful about finding an agency that matches your commitment to EEOC compliance and bringing diversity to your company. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed—including you and your disabled employees.