Your Questions Answered: A Guide to Hiring Employees with Disabilities

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Apr 10, 2024
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In today's dynamic and digitally-driven workplace, companies stand on the brink of a transformative opportunity: to harness the unique abilities, reliability and loyalty of an immensely skilled yet underutilized talent pool within the disability community.

Employers have an unprecedented opening to make meaningful and profitable inclusivity strides thanks to advancements in workplace technology, widespread acceptance of remote and flexible work, increased awareness and the adoption of inclusive business practices.

Yet, despite these advances, a significant gap remains in employment equity for individuals with disabilities.

Addressing the Employment Gap for Individuals with Disabilities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 10% of Americans aged 16-64, amounting to 22 million individuals, live with a disability. Shockingly, as of August 2023, the employment ratio for people with disabilities stands at a mere 38%. This statistic starkly highlights that an overwhelming 62% — approximately 14 million people — remain outside the employment sphere.

The compelling case for integrating individuals with disabilities into the workforce is not just a matter of social justice or compliance with legal standards such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); it's also a proven business strategy.

A pivotal study by Accenture illuminates this point vividly, revealing that companies actively hiring and supporting employees with disabilities report an average 28% higher revenue, twice the net income and 30% higher profit margins compared to their peers.

If you're unsure where to start, this guide, based on your FAQs, is designed to shed light on the essential steps and considerations for hiring employees with disabilities, including defining what constitutes a disability, conducting interviews that respect every candidate's dignity, assessing job function ability without making direct disability inquiries and responding appropriately to accommodation requests.

Below, I'll answer your most frequently asked questions regarding hiring employees with disabilities.

ADA interactive process

Defining Disability

Question:

What constitutes a disability under the ADA?

Answer:

The ADA defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the individual’s major life activities, a record of such an impairment or being regarded as having such an impairment.

RELATED: Autism in the Workplace - Employer Benefits & Insights >>

Addressing Disability in Interviews

Question:

If our company is interviewing an obviously disabled candidate, should we talk about the disability upfront?

Answer:

In alignment with the ADA and best practices for hiring employees with disabilities, your company is only permitted to discuss a candidate’s disability after a job offer has been made.

You can ask questions that help you measure the applicant’s ability to perform job-related tasks, as long as these questions do not unfairly screen out the disabled individual.

Before beginning the recruiting process, a best practice is to determine which functions or tasks are essential to performing the job and to specify those required duties in advertisements for the position.

RELATED: The Ultimate ADA Checklist for Small Business Accessibility >>

Assessing Job Function Ability Without Direct Disability Inquiries

Question:

If it’s clear the job candidate has a disability, but we can’t ask about it, how do we determine whether or not the person will be able to perform the required job functions?

Answer:

While it’s possible a disabled person may not be able to meet the job performance requirements, it’s also possible that he or she would be able to do so with workplace accommodation.

There are two cases in which you may ask about an applicant’s need for reasonable accommodation:

  • If the aspiring employee’s disability is not obvious but he or she requests accommodation to complete the job application. In this situation, you may ask about the nature of the required accommodation.

  • If you believe the candidate will need accommodation to perform the job and your belief stems from a) recognizing an obvious disability; b) the fact that the applicant has voluntarily told you about a disability that is not apparent; or c) the candidate has voluntarily disclosed the need for reasonable accommodation.

what penalties can result from ADA violations

Ensuring Fairness for Qualified Disabled Candidates

Question:

How can we make absolutely sure we’re giving a disabled, but qualified, candidate a fair shot?

Answer:

Ensuring fairness for qualified disabled candidates begins with a careful examination of potential biases that could influence the hiring process. Disabled individuals often face unfair disadvantages, which can result from misconceptions about their capabilities.

As a small business owner or hiring manager committed to hiring employees with disabilities, it's crucial to critically evaluate your own perceptions and the cultural attitudes within your organization towards disabled individuals. Actively work to dispel any myths that suggest a qualified candidate with a disability is less capable or desirable as an employee.

Creating an inclusive culture is essential and starts from the top. It's important to lead by example and foster an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued. Training your team to recognize and set aside inaccurate preconceived notions is a key step towards ensuring that all candidates, regardless of disability, are given a fair and equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications and potential.

By committing to these practices, you not only comply with legal standards but also enrich your team with diverse perspectives and talents, driving success and innovation in your business.

RELATED: The Ultimate ADA Guide - Small Business Edition >>

Responding to Job Candidates' Accommodation Requests

Question:

How should we handle a job candidate’s request for accommodation?

Answer:

Even if your company has had a past employee with a similar condition, you cannot make assumptions about how that disability might affect another person. The company should not predetermine what the appropriate accommodation should be. Rather, deciding on the right accommodation is very much a personalized process that requires the employee’s input.

That said, your company should have a written policy that:

  • Describes the process by which you and the employee will arrive at an agreed-upon accommodation.

  • Outlines the aspects of the accommodation for which both the organization and the employee are responsible.

You should document the discussions you and the employee have, as well as recording the final agreement and the reasons behind it. You and the employee also should revisit the accommodation periodically to make sure it’s still working for both of you.

Accommodating Newly Disclosed Disabilities in the Workplace

Question:

What if we hire someone who doesn’t appear to have a disability but who later claims to have one and asks for accommodation?

Answer:

The ADA limits how much documentation you can ask the employee to provide if he or she claims to have a disability or makes a request for reasonable accommodation. The law entitles you only to enough information to validate the need for accommodation and to learn, generally, of the nature of the disability, how serious it is and how long it might persist.

The ADA and Service Animals in the Workplace

Addressing Challenging Accommodation Requests from New Employees

Question:

What if a new employee asks for an accommodation that would be hard for our company to provide?

Answer:

While the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled workers, this does not mean you must accommodate in a way that creates an “undue hardship” on your company.

An undue hardship is defined as one that would require “significant difficulty or expense” when considered in the context of your organization’s size, nature of business, structure and financial resources.

There’s no single standard for undue hardship, which is why the process of agreeing on accommodation should be interactive, with input from both the company and the employee.

If you are not able to reach an agreement and must instead claim the employee’s requested accommodation presents an undue hardship on your company, documentation of the facts that support your decision will be essential should the employee file a discrimination claim.

Surveys, including one conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, have found that employers rate their disabled employees’ performance very highly. Disabled employees also tend to have better attendance and retention rates than non-disabled workers do.

Suppose your company keeps an open mind and is willing to recognize the benefits of hiring employees with disabilities. In that case, you just may find you’ve hired people who exceed your expectations and are committed to your company for the long haul.

autism in the workplace

Partner with Axcet HR Solutions for Expertise in Hiring Employees with Disabilities  

Navigating the complexities of HR compliance and recruiting, especially in the crucial area of hiring employees with disabilities, presents a significant challenge for businesses. Axcet HR Solutions, Kansas City's certified professional employer organization (PEO) since 1988, stands ready to guide you through every step of this journey.

Our expertise in ensuring HR compliance and crafting tailored recruitment strategies equips your business to fully embrace the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce. Whether your goal is to refine your hiring practices, guarantee ADA compliance, or seek expert assistance in navigating the intricate HR landscape, Axcet HR Solutions is your dedicated partner.

Join forces with us to forge a stronger, more inclusive, and compliant workplace. Schedule a consultation today to discover how we can address your business's unique needs, particularly in hiring employees with disabilities, and propel you towards your diversity and inclusion goals.

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