GUEST POST: 5 Disability-Discrimination-Law Basics for Employers

guestblogger.jpgToday we have a guest blogger at The Employer Handbook. It’s one of my readers, Joseph Ginarte. Joseph is an employment lawyer with Ginarte, O’Dwyer, Gonzalez, Gallardo Winograd.

Like his post? Feel free to email him some comments!

(Want to guest blog at The Employer Handbook? Email me).

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Disability discrimination, which didn’t become a real issue until late in the last century, has finally become a law with some teeth just as racial and gender orientation discrimination did before it. As a result a number of developed (and emerging) nations have passed laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability including Australia, Canada, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In the U.S.A. protection for the disabled in the workplace and in the hiring process is purveyed via five federal laws. These are:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The Civil Service Reform Act
  • The Rehabilitation Act
  • The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act
  • The Workforce Investment Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the one most familiar to the public and prospective employers or their Human Resources staffers. It forbids discrimination against any disabled person. It also mandates equal opportunity hiring for the disabled in various sectors, ranging from employment (agencies) to public accommodations, and including the transportation sector, state and local governments, and telecommunications.

This non-discriminatory platform also provides that the disabled will receive equal treatment in all employment-related venues, whether hiring, benefits, firing, pay or promotions, for example, and covers private businesses, education, employment (as in government or private agencies), labor organizations, and any state or local government body (as amended under Title II).

The only caveat is simply that the individual be qualified for the job. For more information and official definitions interested parties can access the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission page on disability discrimination here. In addition, one can visit the web pages at the U.S. Department of Justice which enforces all Title II provisions of the ADA.

The Rehabilitation Act provides the funding for various disability-associated venues, from regional, state and local vocational rehabilitation training to programs which teach the disabled how to live on their own. This programs offer such living skills as writing a check, the appropriate clothing to apply for a job, even grocery shopping and finding public transit routes to and from school or work.

It also contains three segments that prohibit discrimination amongst three employment sectors: federal agencies (under subsection 501); employers or firms contracting with federal agencies and paid more than $10,000 via federal resources (Section 503); and various programs which benefit from federal financial support (Section 504).

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 was designed to incorporate all federal job training and employment programs into a single venue that provides a national network of career centers for the disabled. It also forbids discrimination against the disabled if an entity or organization provides activities or gets federal dollars from the WIA.

The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) is tied to firms that have federal contracts to provide employment for some disabled veterans based on the firm’s contract date and amount. Before Dec. 1 of 2003 the amount is $25,000; after, it is $100,000.

Add to these disabled provisions the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA), and it becomes apparent that the federal government has not neglected the disabled. However, as well-intentioned as most employers are in complying with these discrimination laws, some fall short, which can expose them to fines or civil litigation. Given the uncertainty of litigation, many of these cases settle. A few, however, make it to the Supreme Court, and set precedents doing so. The 1998 case of Bragdon v. Abbott established HIV as a disability under ADA. A year later, in Murphy v. UPS, the Court defined a clause of “substantial limitation” as it applies to employees. And in the same year, in Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., the Court further elucidated the definition of “disabled.” This decision helped paved the way for the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, which went into effect in 2009.

Disability laws play an important part in protecting qualified workers from unlawful treatment during the hiring process as well as in the workplace. The employer who is informed about workplace disability laws will be the ones who are least likely to find themselves in court.

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