Raising awareness of disability discrimination is an important step in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture, while also helping your organization avoid discrimination claims in recruiting, hiring and promotions. Unfortunately, employees and job candidates with disabilities continue to face numerous barriers. In 2017, disability discrimination made up almost 32% of all discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Only retaliation (48.8%) and race discrimination (33.9%) charges were higher.
And in spite of a tight job market, only 18.7% of individuals with a disability were employed in 2017, compared to 65.7% of people without a disability, reports the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means individuals with a disability face an unemployment rate (9.2%) that is more than twice that of people with no disability (4.2%).
This year marks the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. Signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified job applicants and employees based on their physical or mental disabilities. The ADA covers all aspects of employment, from recruiting, hiring, firing, pay, promotions, job assignments, training, leave and benefits, and applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments, employment agencies and labor organizations.
Under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to applicants with disabilities to ensure they receive fair and equal treatment in the hiring process, and to employees who need them, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. An example of an undue hardship would be an action that imposes a high expense for the organization or lowers quality or production standards.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include providing written materials in accessible formats such as large print, braille or audio tape, installing a ramp or modifying a workspace or restroom, providing screen reader software, providing sign language interpreters or closed captioning at meetings and events, adjusting work schedules, and allowing a service animal in the workplace.
In addition, the ADA makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees or applicants who assert their rights under the law, speak out against disability discrimination or because of their family, business, social or other relationship with an individual with a disability.
Recent settlements and lawsuits
A look at some recent EEOC settlements show the significant costs and consequences organizations face when they violate the ADA and don’t effectively train employees and managers to recognize, address and prevent disability discrimination.
- A Marine transportation provider agreed to pay a former deckhand $165,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit charging the company fired him because of his recurrent pancreatitis. The EEOC said that the company told the deckhand that it was firing him because his recurrent pancreatitis had rendered him unqualified for the job. The EEOC alleged the company took this action even though the condition had not hindered the employee’s work over the past 10 years, and his doctor and the US Coast Guard said the condition would not impede his work in the future.
- One of the world’s largest beverage companies reached an agreement with the EEOC to improve its policies and practices for accommodating employees returning to work after disability-related absences. The agreement provides $2.25 million in payments to those individuals who filed discrimination charges, and the company will establish a dedicated accommodation and leave management team to provide assistance to its employees.
- The EEOC recently filed a lawsuit charging a hypermarket in Washington, DC violated the ADA by denying reasonable accommodations to deaf employees. According to the lawsuit, the store refused to provide communications accommodations, such sign language interpreters, so the employees could obtain information and participate in meetings, trainings and other workplace communications.
- A large Las Vegas-based gaming company will pay $3.5 million and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit charging the company violated the ADA by requiring employees with disabilities or medical conditions be 100% healed before returning to work. This policy did not allow for an interactive process to resolve the charges or provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. The EEOC also alleged that employees were fired or force to quit because they were regarded as disabled, had a record of disability, or were associated with someone with a disability.
- A grocery store chain will pay $832,500 to resolve charges its policies and procedures disadvantaged a class of people with disabilities in various ways. The EEOC said a qualified individual with a disability and a group of other individuals with medical conditions were denied reasonable accommodations to perform their jobs, such as additional leave, working with restrictions and reassignment. The agency’s investigation also revealed a practice of disciplining and/or firing employees because of their need for reasonable accommodations.
- The EEOC recently filed a lawsuit charging that a large hotel violated the ADA by refusing to accommodate an employee with a chronic back impairment. According to the EEOC, prolonged standing by a front desk agent aggravated the employee’s back and caused him severe pain. When the employee suggested that the hotel permit him to sit on a chair while working at the front desk, they agreed, but then refused after two weeks and otherwise failed to accommodate his disability.
Disability discrimination remains a persistent workplace issue for organizations and their HR teams, hiring managers and recruiters. #ADA28 is an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of employees with disabilities, and review and update recruiting and hiring procedures and anti-discrimination policies and training to ensure they cover disability discrimination and reinforce your commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive work culture in which everyone is treated fairly.