The Truth About Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Disability discrimination in the workplace

Going out into the world, nailing a job interview, and going to work to earn your own money and establish independence is supposed to be followed by feelings of excitement and euphoria, but for those who are disabled, it’s sometimes a different story altogether.

Workplace discrimination still exists, even today, and all too often it’s aimed towards those with disabilities. Statistics presented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2018, 19.1 percent of disabled people were employed.

A disability is defined as a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. Examples of disabilities listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include:

  • Communication
  • Hearing
  • Mental health
  • Movement
  • Social relationships
  • Thinking
  • Vision

People can be born with a disability as in the case of a birth defect, or it could be caused by a life-altering event such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury, or an auto accident. Other times it may be due to conditions such as Autism or Down Syndrome that has more of a developmental role.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disabilities have “three dimensions”. These include:

  • Activity limitation- which may involve hearing, seeing, or walking
  • Impairment- which may include loss of memory or vision
  • Participation restrictions- which could entail issues with receiving healthcare, problems working, and social activities

When disability discrimination happens, either an employer or coworker treats a disabled employee poorly. It can occur in different settings and in different forms, such as lack of reasonable accommodations, an inappropriate interview, the use of pre-employment medical exams, or outright harassment. Disability discrimination happens more often in the workplace than in any other setting.

Disabled individuals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and a complaint should be documented, should any type of discrimination take place. As long as the person can perform the specific tasks for the job, they should be allowed to gain employment. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination often takes place before the job is awarded.

The opportunity for workplace disability discrimination can rear its ugly head at any time, such as during hiring, training, assignments, and termination as well as dealing with wages and promotions. An employee shouldn’t be treated differently because they’ve previously or even currently suffer from conditions such as cancer, hearing loss, or even pregnancy.

Employers also should not harass or allow harassment in the workplace. Just because a person has a disability, whether it will be gone in six months or will never go away, there is no excuse for harassment. It brings about an inherent risk of creating a hostile work environment, even if it comes from another department. This type of action can have serious consequences such as demotion or severing employment with the person.

Employers also have to offer reasonable accommodations for any disabled employees. Anything from wheelchair access to interpreters for blind or deaf employees, even providing additional bathroom breaks or special seating. Any physical accommodations must be met at the employer’s expense, though there’s one exception to this rule. If the employer can prove that these accommodations create a financial hardship.

When it comes to interview and application questions, there are some taboo’s too. An employer cannot request a prospective employee to take a medical exam if they have not yet offered them a job. This request must follow a valid job offer so that the company cannot discriminate against any applicants with a disability.

They also can’t ask if someone has a disability. In the event the employer recognizes someone has a disability, they can inquire how well the person will be able to complete the assigned tasks. They are entitled to know if the person will be able to fulfill their daily expectations.

After the company has given an official offer for employment, they can request the person complete a physical or medical exam. This will help to identify any individuals who are not well enough to do their job.

No matter what the disability, there’s no excuse for workplace disability discrimination. If you feel you or someone you know is being discriminated against, here are some tips for handling the situation.

  • Document everything- date, time, where it occurred, exactly what happened. This keeps the details fresh and this log could be crucial should legal action need to be taken
  • Contact your company’s Human Resources department. Often, they are able to help out with the situation, but if not, they can point you in the direction of someone who can
  • Talk with the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EOE) office if one is available. That’s what they are there for
  • Locate the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website and file a report. They have a section to help with filing charges. They also have a page dedicated to disability discrimination as well as one on ADA charge statistics which include information on Hearing Impairment
  • Contact your company’s union if they have one
  • Contact a suitable state agency, like a vocational rehab department or the labor department to inquire about any services they can offer
  • If you trust someone in your organization, someone you feel comfortable confiding in, talk with them about the situation, especially if they’re in a position to offer assistance
  • If the situation deteriorates, don’t wait until you lose your job or are forced to quit, get a lawyer and save yourself the uncertainty of going it alone

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