The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees with disabilities. The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations -- changes to the workplace or the position -- to allow employees with disabilities to do their jobs. As long as an applicant or employee with a disability can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation, the employer may not make hiring, firing, disciplinary, or other employment-related decisions based on the person's disability.
The ADA doesn't specifically require employers to provide disability training to their employees or otherwise educate their workforce about disabilities. However, there are some good reasons to offer this type of training, particularly to managers and supervisors.
Why Provide Disability Training
There are several benefits to offering training to employees and managers on disability discrimination. Disability training can help you:
- Create a more inclusive workplace. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often subject to negative stereotypes about their ability to work, their intelligence, or their diligence and work ethic. These stereotypes sometimes result from bigotry and malice; perhaps more often, they result from simple ignorance. Educating managers and employees about disability discrimination can help prevent stereotyping and unfair judgments about employees with disabilities.
- Improve productivity and morale. Sometimes, coworkers are resentful or fearful of employees with disabilities, which can lead to morale problems and difficulty working together effectively. Coworkers may misperceive a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability as unfair special treatment, not realizing that the accommodation is both legally and practically required to help the employee do his or her job. Some coworkers may be uncomfortable around employees with disabilities, because they are afraid of saying something offensive or they simply don't know how to act or what to say. Disability training can help employees and managers understand both how the law treats people with disabilities and how others should treat them. For example, a training session might include common etiquette tips for interacting with employees who use wheelchairs, such as not to hang or lean on the wheelchair and not to jump in to assist a person in a wheelchair unless asked for help.
Avoid claims of harassment and discrimination. Your company is legally prohibited from discriminating against or harassing employees or applicants with disabilities. If employees with disabilities are treated unfairly at work -- even if that mistreatment is unintentional -- they may have grounds for a lawsuit. Disability training can help employees and managers understand what the law requires and prohibits. For example, some employees may think that teasing a coworker because of a disability is simply a way of treating him or her as "part of the gang," but the employee may see it as unwanted harassment. Or, a manager may refuse an employee's request for an accommodation as too expensive or time-consuming, not realizing that the ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process with employees to try to come up with a reasonable accommodation that doesn't pose an undue burden on the company.
If you are considering disability training for your workplace, you'll need some help. Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for information on training. An experienced employment lawyer can help you understand your legal obligations under the ADA, help you find a qualified trainer, or even conduct trainings for you.