October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, bringing to light disability employment issues and celebrating the many and varied contributions of America's workers and disabilities. This year's theme is aptly named "Because We Are EQUAL to the Task," and this is particularly relevant because nearly one in every five Americans has a disability. Wisconsin residents who have a medical impairment are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and discrimination against them in the workplace is prohibited.
Since HIV first came to be well-known among Americans, there have been many advancements made. These advancements aren't limited solely to treatment of the disease, but also to the general attitude toward people who have contracted the virus. The change of attitude has come largely as a result of public education campaigns about how the disease is actually spread. A recent focus of these movements has been to allow more HIV-positive people to find employment by preventing disability discrimination. As a result, those who are positive for the virus in Wisconsin are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is designed to protect disabled workers in Wisconsin and across the nation. When an employer violates that act by failing to provide reasonable accommodation or wrongfully terminating a disabled worker, it may be grounds for a disability discrimination suit. A former county worker in another state sued for just that reason, and the county government recently agreed to a settlement in his case.
It's a rough road for employees with disabilities, and sometimes it's even tougher if the employer merely 'perceives' that there's a disability. Wisconsin and all other states are bound by the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This case is about a deputy Sheriff in another state who had a stroke. He came back to work several months later on a part-time basis and then moved to full-time.
As we often discuss in this blog, employers here in Wisconsin are required to make certain accommodations for employees with disabilities. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must provide changes to a workplace or role--reasonable accommodations--in order to allow workers with disabilities to perform their jobs. Examples of such accommodations include modifying equipment, such as adding computer screen magnifiers or adjusting desk height, and adjusting schedules, among other things.
We write quite a bit about the Americans with Disabilities Act in this Milwaukee Employment Law Blog. Many employers and employees in Wisconsin are aware that this federal law bars employers from discriminating against workers or job applicants on the basis of a real or perceived disability. Another law that is closely tied to the ADA is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. This act was just passed into law in 2009, and many employers do not understand what this requires of them.
Wisconsin residents may have heard that a landmark Americans with Disabilities Act case came to a close this week. The case involved a Texas turkey processor that ran a labor camp for mentally disabled men in Iowa for decades until the Des Moines Register brought the camp to the attention of state officials in 2009.
Employment claims filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act here in Wisconsin often involve accusations of discrimination in hiring, advancement or other work-related activities. Discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace is often subtle--such as the failure of an employer to provide a worker with accommodations that would aid in his or her abilities to do a job, for example. A lawsuit that was recently filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a division of Wal-Mart involves allegations of very egregious ADA violations.
Although it has been illegal for employers to discriminate against workers and applicants with disabilities for more than 20 years in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S., a recent news report suggests that this type of discrimination is still very common. Only 18 percent of Americans with disabilities of working age are currently employed, and this is actually down 2 percent from 2009. According to the Associated Press, these numbers have been relatively stable since the Americans with Disabilities Act outlawed discrimination in employment in 1990.
Some people here in Milwaukee may have heard the news last week that the number of unemployed people with disabilities has recently surged upward. The U.S. Department of Labor announced last week that 2 percent more disabled people sought unemployment benefits in January 2013 compared to January 2012.