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Legal minefield not so difficult for hiring workers with disabilities

Human Resources
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This story originally appeared in the April 16 issue of GSA Business Report.

When an employer has a position to fill and a person with disabilities wants to fill it, the important thing for both to remember is that they’re really after the same thing.

Greenville attorney Alex Stalvey, managing partner of Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey LLC, acknowledged that employers worry about staying within the law when hiring workers with disabilities, but he said it doesn’t have to be a worrisome process, especially if both parties keep their eyes on their primary objectives. Employers want workers who can do the job, and workers want a job they can do.

At its core, the Americans with Disabilities Act has a simple function. “It’s there to make sure people aren’t treated unfairly,” Stalvey said.

“Certain things you are prohibited from asking. You can’t ask medical questions and you can’t ask them to take a medical exam,” Stalvey said. However “there’s a difference between asking medical questions and making sure they can do the task.”

It’s OK to ask applicants if they can lift bags to a shelf, for example, because that question isn’t asking whether they have a disability, but instead is asking if a requirement of the job can be met. It is important to make sure an applicant knows what those tasks will be so that expectations can be met, and it’s important for applicants to make an honest assessment of whether or not they can meet those expectations.

Make sure physical requirements are spelled out clearly in the job description, he said, which would inform a potential applicant up front if physical expectations can or cannot be met. That also places part of the responsibility of determining qualification on the applicant.

“I would advise anybody (applying for a job) to make sure you’re 100% qualified, even in the interview process,” Stalvey said. “That process is there for you, too.”

For the employer, Stalvey said troubles usually come from moving forward in the hiring process without knowing the ADA requirements.

“A trouble spot would be having someone handling the interview process who doesn’t have an understanding of the ADA, which does not take long at all,” he said. “It can be done in less than an hour. Everything you need to know is on the EEOC website.”

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also has a section on its website for workers with disabilities so that they can learn the kinds of questions they should be asking during the job interview. It helps them determine how specific disabilities may affect their qualifications for a position.

Ashely Alexander, career development services case manager for Goodwill Industries, said workers with disabilities often are the first to mention their disabilities during a job interview because they want to clarify whether they can do the job or what kind of accommodations it would take to enable them to do so. Often, she said, it’s not that much.

“Typically, workers with disabilities … don’t mind talking about it, and they will be the ones to bring it up,” she said. “If you’re hiring someone. Instead of asking how you can accommodate their disability, ask how you can help them do their job.”

She said many of the accommodations are inexpensive, such as a simple stool, or even free, such as a flexible schedule. Goodwill has programs that provide jobs and job training for people with disabilities.

Reach Ross Norton at 864-720-1222.

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