FAQ: How to Hire People with Disabilities
FAQ: How to Hire People with Disabilities

FAQ: How to Hire People with Disabilities

Only 19.1% of disabled Americans are employed compared with 65.9% of the general population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Qualified job seekers with disabilities may be held back by companies’ fear of expensive accommodations or compliance regulations.

If you’re interested in hiring people with disabilities, look no further. We’ve answered FAQs to help you remain compliant.

Q: How does the federal government define "disability"?

A: The concept of “disability” is defined by context. For employers, a person with a disability is someone who:

  1. has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities,"
  2. has a record of such an impairment, or
  3. is regarded as having such an impairment.

While this does not apply to short-term impairments of 6 months or less, it can include impairments for which symptoms do not necessarily appear consistently, such as epilepsy or various mental health conditions.

Q: What are the advantages of hiring people with disabilities?

A: The advantages of hiring disabled workers are the same as those for hiring anyone—adding great people to your team! A willingness to hire disabled people also means you have the potential to choose from a wider talent pool, add new perspectives to your organization and benefit from various tax credits.

Q3: What tax credits are available when hiring disabled employees?

A: There are several possible tax incentives available for companies who hire people with disabilities.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) provides one-time tax incentives for hiring individuals from groups who face significant barriers to employment, including veterans, SSI recipients and those who have completed a Vocational Rehabilitation program. The maximum available credit can be as much as $9,600.

The Disabled Access Credit provides credits to small businesses (earning $1 million or less or having no more than 30 full time employees) so that they can provide access to workers with disabilities.

The Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal Tax Deduction allows deductions of up to $15,000 per year for businesses of any size who remove barriers—architectural or transportation—which limit the mobility of the disabled or elderly.

Q: How can my company attract job seekers with disabilities?

A: An easy step is to ensure that your hiring process isn’t biased against those with disabilities. Job seekers whose applications include references to disabilities—even those that will have no impact on their capacity to fulfill the job for which they are applying—are 26% less likely to be invited for an interview, according to a Rutgers University study.

Furthermore, it’s important to make your hiring process accessible—this could apply to where you advertise vacancies, the ease-of-use of your website and any locations where you hold interviews. Here’s a great question to answer right now: Is your website accessible for the visually impaired? If not, fines and penalties may be right around the corner.

Additionally, all staff involved in recruiting and hiring should be educated on the importance of accessibility and what is required to stay compliant (see below).

disabled employee in wheelchair

Q: What is the ADA?

A: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is the most important piece of federal legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. Title 1 of the ADA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, promotions, training and benefits.

Q: Does the ADA apply to all companies?

A: No, the ADA (and ADAAA) does not apply to private companies with less than 15 employees.

Q: How is the ADA enforced?

A: Enforcement of workplace anti-discrimination legislation is the responsibility of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If a company is accused of discriminating against a disabled employee, they may face EEOC penalties. The EEOC also provides assistance for employers seeking to comply with anti-discrimination legislation.

Q: What does the ADA require of companies?

A: Companies may not discriminate against job applicants or employees with disabilities. Job applicants cannot be refused because of a disability, while employees may not be segregated, harassed or fired on the basis of disability.

Furthermore, companies are required to provide reasonable accommodation to the needs of disabled applicants and employees. This can mean making offices accessible, providing specialist equipment or making exceptions to workplace rules. Even if requests for such assistance seem impractical or too expensive, companies must at least consider the request—and may be able to apply to benefit from special funding in order to help disabled applicants and employees (see below).

Q: What are companies not required to do?

A: Companies are not required to fulfil requests that would fundamentally alter the nature of the job, lower production or performance standards or incur significant difficulty or expense. Whether providing assistance is too difficult/expensive is decided on a case-by-case basis, considering company size and resources. If assistance is deemed to be an undue burden, employers must attempt to find an alternative solution as well as giving the relevant employee the option of providing the missing funds themselves.

Q: Does the ADA force companies to hire disabled workers?

A: No, the ADA does not give preference to candidates with disabilities. The only obligation on companies is that they consider applicants on their merits, and don’t discriminate based on disability.

Q: What can’t I ask while interviewing a person with disabilities?

A: During an interview process—until a job offer is made—you cannot ask an applicant questions about whether they have a disability, even if such a disability is obvious. You may ask about whether an applicant may need extra assistance with or changes made to the application process, work environment or how the job is done (if you have a reasonable belief that a reasonable accommodation may be required).

An employer is however permitted to ask applicants to voluntarily report whether they have a disability, but only for the purposes of an affirmative action program.

Q: What can I ask after the hiring process?

A: Once a conditional offer is submitted, it is permitted to ask disability-related questions and conduct medical examinations but only if these are asked of all new employees of the same category.

Once a candidate is employed, disability-related questions and medical examinations are allowed if job-related and necessary from a business perspective.

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