OCS Associate Dean and Executive Director Maureen Reilly provides advice for employers to make the employee disability disclosure process more effective.
At Employment Practice Solutions, Maureen Reilly, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Office of Career Strategy, explores the barriers that prevent employees from disclosing information about their disabilities and offers practical tips for employers to make the process more effective.
As a society we have made tremendous progress since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) thirty years ago. And although this certainly includes tremendous progress in the workplace, individuals with disabilities continue to be both unemployed and underemployed at a much higher rate than those without disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20% of people with disabilities are employed, as compared to 65% without disabilities[. Of those who are employed, over 30% work part time, double the rate of non-disabled workers. This differential represents a significant segment of the available labor market who are ready, willing, and able to contribute to the workforce across all employment sectors and jobs.
A key element to ensuring inclusive employment is making sure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to the workplace. Workers with disabilities often need adjustments to their workplace to perform their jobs successfully. “Accommodation” is the legal term for these adjustments, which could include, e.g., changes to the physical space, specific equipment, tools or technologies, changes in lighting or changes to work schedules and other processes or supports. Accommodating those differences enables them to meet the same performance standards as their peers. This article will use both “accommodation” and “adjustment” interchangeably. The legal standards for accommodation are not addressed in this article but can be found at the Job Accommodation Network ADA Library.
From the employer’s perspective, providing workplace accommodations is both a legal requirement and smart business. It gives access to an underutilized talent pool that is known to deliver once those barriers are taken out of their way. The benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities include greater innovation, creativity, engagement, and retention, as well as the reputational benefits that come with making a commitment to this underrecognized segment of our communities.
So what’s getting in the way of workplace accessibility? In many instances, to gain meaningful access to employment through workplace accommodations, the employee needs to initiate a process that includes disclosing some level of information about their disability… .