Hiring People With Disabilities: Small Business Guide
This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
The hiring process for someone with a disability is similar to regular hiring—though there are a few differences and legal considerations. Whether your company is proactively attempting to hire people with disabilities or you’ve come across great candidates during the hiring process who have a disability, here’s how to approach hiring this type of employee.
Finding & Accommodating Candidates with Disabilities
If you’re already familiar with the general hiring process, the biggest difference when hiring people with disabilities is where and how you find candidates, along with being aware of any legal implications.
If you’re proactively looking to hire people with disabilities, you can reach out to local organizations. Most states have a vocational rehabilitation agency that provides employment services to people with disabilities. Not only do they help workers spruce up their resumes and apply to jobs, but these state agencies develop relationships with local businesses to connect skilled workers.
There are also options at the national level. Disability:IN is a national nonprofit organization that helps connect businesses with workers with disabilities. CareerOneStop, sponsored by the US Department of Labor, and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion also help small businesses looking to hire workers with disabilities.
You can also post your job opening on job boards specifically designed for people with disabilities, besides using more general and well-known job boards.
Accommodations During Hiring
Throughout the hiring process, employers should consider making reasonable accommodations and ensure that applicants with disabilities are not being discriminated against.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified applicant with a disability. Private companies with at least 15 employees are subject to this law. It is also up to the applicant whether they disclose their disability to a company.
You may exclude an applicant from consideration of your job if they don’t meet your minimum job requirements. Just be sure you’re removing someone from consideration for that reason and not because of their disability.
Reasonable accommodation, according to the ADA, are modifications that employers can make during (and after) the hiring process. It takes many forms and is often unique to the individual candidate and their disability. Examples of reasonable accommodation might include making written materials more accessible via braille or larger print, providing sign language interpreters, or modifying interview procedures.
Let’s take a look at some common questions about providing reasonable accommodation:
Do I have to provide accommodations to an applicant who requests them?
Yes, companies must provide reasonable accommodations upon request from a candidate. You do not have to provide reasonable accommodations if an applicant with a disability does not request them, unless the disability is obvious.
For a candidate in a wheelchair, you would need to ensure your office is accessible (there should be a ramp to enter the building, elevator to reach your floor, and doorways wide enough for a wheelchair). Because a wheelchair is an obvious disability, you’re required to make accommodations.
If the job I’m hiring for requires a written test, can an applicant with a disability have additional time to complete?
Yes, so long as the applicant requested reasonable accommodation for extended time. Applicants can request this by any means—through a letter, email, or face-to-face—prior to taking the test. Depending on the candidate’s disability, you may need to provide additional time for them to complete the test, a modified test format, or any other reasonable accommodation that allows the disabled candidate the same opportunity as all other candidates to complete the test.
Can I refuse to provide an accommodation to a candidate because it’s too expensive?
Yes, so long as the accommodation would cause your company an undue hardship. When thinking about what constitutes an undue hardship, consider how difficult or expensive it would be to accommodate the candidate. Be aware this does not excuse your requirement to provide an alternative accommodation. For example, if an applicant is in a wheelchair and your office is on the third floor of a building without an elevator, installing an elevator would be unreasonable; offering to hold the interview on the first floor would not be unreasonable.
Considerations Upon Hiring
Once you’ve hired a person with disabilities, make sure you’re aware of what you can do to support them in your workplace. This includes adhering to legal considerations and taking actionable steps to keep your workplace safe and inclusive.
Here’s the takeaway: When employing a person with disabilities, you need to ensure they are able to do the job you hired them to do by offering them reasonable accommodations that do not create an undue hardship or unreasonable financial burden to your company. This is completely unique to the situation—it is encouraged to have an open and honest discussion with your new employee about what they need and what you can provide.
How do you know if you need to provide a new employee with accommodations? To understand a new employee’s disability and what you can do to support them, you’ll need to inquire. It’s best to avoid asking potentially illegal questions, such as if the employee has previously filed for workers’ compensation or taken an extensive amount of sick leave. Here are some questions you can ask:
- Do you have any disability that would interfere with your ability to perform the job you’ve been hired to do?
- Do you have difficulty breathing or have any conditions that cause breathing problems?
- Do you have any medical issues that we need to be aware of to take action if symptoms appear during work?
- Are you currently taking any prescription medication?*
- Are you or have you ever been treated for mental health problems?*
*Pay special attention to the last two questions. While these questions are permissible if they are directly related to someone’s ability to do the job, we don’t recommend asking them unless you have very good reason to. If you hire a forklift driver and they take medication that makes them drowsy, that’s certainly something you want to know and should ask about. Only in similar situations should you even consider asking these questions, as they come very close to potentially violating employment laws.
Under no circumstances should these questions be asked before you extend a job offer. Also, be sure that you ask these questions of all new hires, not just those who you suspect may have a disability.
Do’s & Don’ts
Here are some tips to keep in mind to foster a more inclusive workplace for your new hires:
|Learn about the worker’s disability to support them with equipment needed to do their job||Put too much on their plate (understand their limitations based on their disability)|
|Make necessary and reasonable accommodations||Underpay|
|Prepare for when the worker is unable to work (who takes over their duties)||Treat them like a child|
|Allow employees to express themselves||Leave them out of a team or company activity|
|Show appreciation without being demeaning||Ignore them|
|Assume competence||Terminate them because of their disability|
Benefits of Hiring People With Disabilities
Hiring people with disabilities isn’t always top of mind for hiring managers. Unfortunately, this mindset hurts both the workers and companies as they miss out on highly skilled and dedicated employees.
Expanded Applicant Pool
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 61 million American adults with a disability. These potential applicants make up 26% of the adult workforce, a sizable amount no business would want to exclude.
During the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate for workers with disabilities was significantly higher than that of other workers (12.6% vs 7.9%). Whether you’re specifically looking to hire workers with disabilities or you’ve simply come across more disabled applicants recently, this could be a reason, as more disabled workers look to return to the workforce.
It’s Good for Business
Not only is hiring workers with disabilities the right thing to do, but it can be good business. A widely cited study from Accenture found that companies leading in practices and initiatives specific to hiring and supporting workers with disabilities outperformed their peers. These Disability Inclusion Champions had 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profit margin, along with increased productivity and innovation.
It Adds to Your Company Diversity
Just like any marginalized group, disabled workers bring a lot to the table. People with disabilities have to be flexible in their lives and have extreme determination to overcome their disabilities and live a life that works for them. This perseverance is something to be admired, not ignored, as it often provides workers with a different perspective to business problems. Workers with disabilities can bring innovative thinking to your workplace and any challenges you face.
It Increases Employee Engagement
A more diverse team can create more bonds and help lift each other up, increasing productivity and reducing turnover. Because of diverse hiring practices, you may see employees with greater loyalty to your company as they see you making a concerted effort to hire people with diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities.
Companies can also reap the benefits of government incentives. There are several federal tax incentives for businesses, including:
In addition to each of these federal tax credits, be sure to check your state and local tax agencies for any tax credits available to you.
Get Government Contracts
Depending on the industry you’re in, you may be eligible for government contracts. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires employers to be disability-inclusive. This encourages federal contractors and subcontractors to progress toward equal opportunity in employment. Without meeting these requirements, your company won’t be eligible to take part in federal government contracts.
Hiring people with disabilities has many advantages for your company and the rest of your team. The hiring process isn’t all that different from hiring any other employee—just be aware of your legal requirements relating to reasonable accommodations. Ultimately, you have lots to gain by employing people with disabilities.
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