Guide to Preventing Disability Discrimination

September 28, 2018
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

On the 25th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, CNN reported on some very troubling data which showed that many Americans with severe disabilities still face difficulty in taking advantage of work opportunities, even despite federal laws in place that are aimed at ensuring the disabled have equal opportunities to work in the United States.

According to CNN, there are approximately 57 million disabled people who live in the United States. Many of them struggle to find work. In the 1990s, approximately half of all disabled Americans were employed but by 2015 when the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act occurred, just 41 percent of disabled Americans had jobs. While part of the decline was explained by the aging population, the data was still troubling and showed that the employment rate of disabled Americans has dropped more than the employment rate for those who are not disabled.

CNN profiled one of the millions of disabled people struggling to find a job – a blind man who had been looking for work for three years but who had received many form letters or rejection emails during that time and who had even been told by one employer he’d applied to work for that the company does not hire people who are blind.

When companies fail to hire people because of their disability status, those companies miss out on good workers. Perhaps more importantly, businesses put themselves at risk of litigation and at risk of damage to their brand reputation in the event that they engage in discrimination against a qualified worker or job seeker because of his or her disability status.

Both employers and employees need to know the laws on disability discrimination and should consult with a Maryland discrimination lawyer for assistance in either preventing disability discrimination in the workplace or taking appropriate legal action in the event that a company treats a disabled worker in an unlawful way in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Disabled Workers are Protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act

Disabled workers benefit from a federal law that prohibits employers from engaging in  any type of discriminatory behavior with regards to their disability status. The Americans with Disabilities Act applies throughout the United States and the federal law forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of a worker or candidate’s disabling condition.

Employers are not legally allowed to consider disability status when they are hiring workers, when they are deciding whether to fire them, when they are assessing who is eligible for a promotion, when they are providing workplace benefits, or with any of the other terms and conditions of employment.

Employers are not only prohibited from engaging in discriminatory behavior against disabled workers, but they are also expected to make reasonable accommodations in order to make it possible for someone with a disabling condition to work.

In other words, if a person is otherwise reasonably qualified for a particular job but there is a minor issue that needs to be addressed due to the candidate’s disability status in order for the employee to work, the employer is expected to address that issue and make it possible for the employee to do the job. The employer is expected to take this action unless making the necessary adjustment to the job would be unduly burdensome on the employer.

This means, for example, that if a person could otherwise work as a cashier but the individual needs a stool to sit down on because of his disability instead of having to stand all day as most cashiers at that particular store do, the employer would be expected to make this reasonable accommodation.

Employers need to know and follow these rules in order to avoid a lawsuit based on a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or in order to avoid regulatory investigation into their discriminatory and unlawful business practices that violate the civil rights of disabled workers.

Employers Should Take Steps to Prevent Disability Discrimination

Employers have the responsibility of ensuring that they do not discriminate against disabled job applicants or discriminate against disabled workers in the workplace. In order to make certain that they do not inadvertently engage in unlawful discriminatory behavior on the basis of a disability, there are a few key steps that employers should take. These include:

  • Understand the laws preventing disability discrimination: Employers need to know what the rules are in the Americans with Disabilities Act and employers should also confirm that their individual state laws do not impose stricter anti-discrimination requirements upon companies. Employers must comply with both state and federal laws.
  • Know what the definition of disabled is: The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability broadly to include any person with a physical or mental impairment if that impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. In addition, the definition of disability also includes having a history or record of an impairment that interferes with major life activities. Finally, it includes any person who is perceived by others as having an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This means even if someone is not actually disabled enough to be impaired, if he appears to be, then he can be considered disabled for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Establish official policies and guidelines in your company handbook: Employers should have an anti-disability discrimination policy included within the company handbook. An attorney should provide assistance in drafting a policy that is in full compliance with ADA requirements and that makes clear what constitutes unlawful behavior and what steps the company is taking to ensure disabled applicants or workers are treated fairly.  Employers not only need to have these policies in place, but they also need to ensure that the rules are enforced. This means establishing penalties in situations where there is a violation of laws preventing disability discrimination or any other type of unlawful workplace discrimination.
  • Make accommodations when necessary for workers: One of the big reasons employers find themselves running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act is when companies refuse to make reasonable accommodations for someone who has a physical or mental illness. For example, there have been situations when disabled people asked to be switched to a light-duty job instead of being forced to continue heavy lifting which has become impossible as a result of a medical condition. Employers need to have standards regarding what accommodations they consider reasonable and need to be proactive in making sure they are providing the tools and support that disabled employees need to thrive.
  • Provide a way to report unlawful or discriminatory treatment: There are circumstances where other co-workers treat a disabled person in an inappropriate manner. This can create a hostile work environment. When wrongful behavior towards a disabled person creates a pattern of conduct that would upset the sensibilities of any reasonable person, this could lead to an anti-discrimination claim, even if management is not involved in discriminating against the disabled worker. Employers need to be proactive in ensuring they discover all discriminatory behavior and take swift action to address problems. Providing a process by which discrimination or workplace harassment can be reported will help to ensure that unlawful behavior is addressed in a timely manner. If employers provide a fair reporting process and take appropriate action in the event that any reports of discriminatory or inappropriate behaviors occur, then employers can reduce the likelihood that they will be successfully sued for workplace discrimination.

These are just some of many steps that an employer can and should take to try to prevent discriminatory behavior from occurring against someone who is disabled. There may be other specific steps employers need to take depending upon the industry or the candidate before them, so it is best to get legal advice when in doubt about what the law requires.

Getting Help With Disability Discrimination

A Maryland discrimination lawyer can provide legal representation to companies that need help understanding the rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensuring full compliance with the rules and regulations. An attorney can also assist companies with developing appropriate policies and protocols to ensure they do not inadvertently engage in discriminatory and unlawful behavior and to help protect against lawsuits. And, an attorney can provide help in the event that an employer has been sued for discriminatory behavior.

Anti-discrimination attorneys can also provide representation to individuals who suffer from a disabling condition and who believe they were discriminated against in some aspect of their employment as a result of their medical issues. It can sometimes be difficult to demonstrate that an employer’s conduct, such as a refusal to hire a worker, was caused by disability. However, an experienced attorney can provide assistance in gathering evidence and putting together the strongest possible case.

To find out more about how an attorney can provide assistance with legal issues related to disability discrimination, give us a call today. Call The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. at 410-514-6099 or contact us online as soon as possible.