1. I don’t want to get sued for firing someone with a disability. If I hire a person with a disability and they perform poorly, aren’t I “stuck” with them?
No. Your company’s policies and quality standards apply to employees with disabilities just as they apply to other employees. Once you have made the reasonable accommodations necessary to enable an employee to perform the essential functions of the job, the employee has to meet the job requirements.
2. I’m concerned about saying the wrong thing. What questions may I ask a job applicant with a disability?
Just as with any other applicant for any job, your questions must focus on the job requirements and the applicant’s qualifications and ability to perform the job duties. If the applicant has a disability that you know about, you can ask whether an accommodation will be needed and discuss the nature of any accommodation requested.
Don’t assume, however, that the applicant won’t be able to do something because of his disability. Most people with disabilities already are experts at figuring out how to do things others of us wouldn’t expect them to be able to do!
3. If the applicant with a disability could do the job if we just changed a few things, does my company have to make those changes and hire him?
Only if that applicant otherwise is the one best-qualified for the job and your company can make the changes necessary to enable him to do the job. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to enable qualified people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of a job. If the accommodation would pose undue hardship, however, your company is not required to provide it.
4. If the applicant needs an accommodation to be able to perform the job, who pays for that accommodation?
Your company pays for reasonable accommodations necessary to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. You do not pay for personal items, though, like glasses, wheel chairs, hearing aids, etc. What constitutes a “reasonable” accommodation depends on the facts of each case and there are usually several alternatives to consider. If the job requirements have been communicated clearly, the applicant himself usually is in the best position to suggest practical ideas. Another resource for you is the free consultant service, Job Accommodation Network, at (800) 526-7234.
5. What if I think the accommodations the employee needs are too expensive?
The ADA does not require your company to pay for accommodations that pose an undue hardship, i.e., significant expense or difficulty (considering your company’s size, resources, and other factors). Generally, larger companies are expected to do more than smaller companies. Make sure you’ve considered less expensive alternatives and have noted your estimates of the expense involved.
6. Can I ask someone to evaluate my company’s practices and workplace for ADA compliance without getting penalized if something’s not right?
Yes. You can call the field office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal entity responsible for enforcement of the ADA, to request assistance with technical compliance. The EEOC’s technical assistance programs are independent from its enforcement programs so you will not be penalized for compliance issues when you ask for technical assistance. There also are many compliance materials available anonymously from the EEOC’s website, which may be more convenient for you to use. The Chicago Area office of the EEOC is at 500 West Madison Street, Suite 2800, Chicago, IL 60661; telephone (312) 353-2713. Many resources are available from the EEOC’s website: www.eeoc.gov.
7. Will my employee health plan costs increase if I hire employees with disabilities?
Not necessarily. Your group health plan’s cost depends on a number of factors including the coverage provided and the health of those who use the coverage. The ADA does not require that your company provide additional coverage, it just prohibits you from treating employees with disabilities differently from others under the group health plan. Among employers we’ve polled, there has been no health care cost increase attributable to the people with disabilities they have employed.
8. Are there tax advantages for businesses that employ people with disabilities?
Yes. Under the Federal Income Tax Code, there are two tax credit provisions and one income deduction provision related to employing and accommodating people with disabilities. (1) The Targeted Jobs Tax Credit (Code Section 51) provides for a tax credit of up to 40% of the first $6,000 in wages for a new employee with a disability who was referred to you by a qualified agency. (2) The Disabled Access Tax Credit (Code Section 44) provides an annual tax credit of up to 50% of “eligible access expenditures” to small businesses that incur costs necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. (3) Code Section 190 permits a deduction of up to $15,000 per year for costs associated with the removal of certain architectural and transportation barriers that makes your business more accessible by people with disabilities.
(See Internal Revenue Service Publication 907 for more information. The Publication is available on-line at www.irs.gov/pub.)
9. What if some of my other employees feel awkward about working with a person with a disability?
In most settings where people with disabilities work, their presence brings out the best in their non-disabled co-workers. Our employers relate examples of problem solving, teamwork and improvements enhanced by the fact that a person’s disability was a consideration.
If a non-disabled employee feels awkward at first about working with a person with a disability, they’ll soon get over it.
10. Aren’t work-related accidents likely to increase when I hire people with disabilities?
No. Remember, these are people who have become experts at getting around under the circumstances of their unique disabilities. They have a desire to avoid pain and inconvenience that is at least equal to your non-disabled employees! Based on our employers’ experiences, people with disabilities are no more likely to have a work-related injury than non-disabled employees.