While more organizations are recognizing the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce, unfortunately, many people with disabilities are still encountering serious barriers to employment. Consider that only 17.7% of people with disabilities were employed in 2015, compared to 65% of people without a disability, according to the US Census Bureau.
In spite of low employment among the disabled, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that disability-discrimination claims have been steadily increasing. Last year, over 30% of its cases involved disability discrimination.
This trend highlights the need for organizations to make disability discrimination a key focus in their anti-discrimination policies, employee training and handbooks – as well as in every step of the hiring process.
ADA Misstep During the Application Process
Earlier this month, S&B Industry, a Fort Worth, Texas cellphone repair facility, agreed to pay $110,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability-discrimination lawsuit charging the company with denying jobs to two hearing-impaired applicants, Katelyn Baker and Tia Rice, because of their disability. The lawsuit also alleges that S&B refused to make reasonable accommodations for the two women during the application process.
According to the EEOC, during a group interview, Baker and Rice used American Sign Language to communicate with each other. Later, during a meeting with a supervisor, the women requested written information about the positions they were applying for. The supervisor initially complied with their request, but later refused to continue writing information for them. Baker and Rice were then told that the company would not hire them.
In announcing the settlement, the EEOC alleged S&B Industry violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in their conduct with Baker and Rice. The ADA protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ and applicants’ disabilities, as long as it does not cause an undue hardship or expense.
Under the terms of the settlement, S&B will pay $110,000 in monetary relief, post a notice about the settlement and provide employee training on the ADA, including instructions on the reasonable accommodation process. The company will also keep a written log of all disability-discrimination complaints and report to the EEOC semi-annually. In addition, managers, supervisors, and HR staff will attend training by the Deaf Action Center, a Dallas organization that provides advocacy services for individuals with hearing impairments.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodation
Here are a few examples from the EEOC of what organizations can do to accommodate job applicants with a hearing disability:
- Provide written materials in accessible formats, such as large print, braille or audiotape
- Provide readers or sign language interpreters
- Ensure that recruitment, interviews, tests and other elements of the application process are conducted in accessible locations
- Provide or modify equipment or devices
- Adjust or modify application policies and procedures
Enforcing the ADA is a priority for the EEOC. Organizations can avoid significant fines and lawsuits by understanding ADA requirements and complying with them at each phase of the employment process. This includes considering all reasonable accommodations to ensure that applicants with disabilities receive fair and equal treatment in the hiring process.