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.
A key aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act is the fact that employers need to grant reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. In order to eliminate artificial barriers to employment, employers must work with disabled employees to provide things that may be necessary such as a restructuring of duties, tools for the job, a job-protected leave, a modified work schedule or a reassignment, for example. When employers fail to abide by the law and provide accommodations, there may be consequences.
When people hear the word "discrimination," they likely think about prejudices related to things like race, gender, nationality or sexuality. A lesser-known form of employment discrimination may be on the rise.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, not only are employers here in Wisconsin and the rest of the country barred from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on their disabilities or perceived disabilities, but they are also prohibited from making certain inquiries about the health of employees and job applicants.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, employees and job applicants cannot be discriminated against on the basis of a disability or a perceived disability. A provision of the ADA also requires employers to keep confidential the medical information that they may obtain about their employees--this means that employers generally cannot share information about a workers' health or disability during a job reference call, for example.
Here in Milwaukee, fans of the CBS cop drama 'Blue Bloods' may be aware of the real life legal issue troubling the show's star Jennifer Esposito. The actress, who has celiac disease, has accused CBS of placing her on unpaid leave rather than accommodating the needs she has due to a disability.
Here in Milwaukee, and throughout the country, people are protected from workplace discrimination based upon a number of things. These include race, age, disability, sex, pregnancy, nationality and religion, among others. However, Wisconsin residents may be surprised about something for which they can be discriminated against: their weight.
Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer, recently settled a disability discrimination lawsuit, filed by the EEOC on behalf of a worker, for $100,000. Judy Henderson, who worked for the home improvement chain as a cashier for 13 years, requested permission to take an unpaid leave of absence to attend cancer treatments. The EEOC alleged that while Home Depot granted the leave, it later advised Ms. Henderson that if she did not advise the company of her status during the leave it would terminate her employment. Ms. Henderson provided medical notes confirming her return to work date. Nonetheless, Home Depot fired her claiming an alleged lack of work. However, the EEOC noted that in the past Home Depot used temporary lay offs when there was a lack of work and the company even hired two cashiers after Ms. Henderson submitted her medical documentation. According to an EEOC press release, the Home Depot's excuse for termination "was but a subterfuge for disability discrimination." EEOC regional attorney, Debra M. Lawrence stated, "it flies in the face of common sense and common decency to refuse to work with an employee who is battling cancer."
Here in Wisconsin, and throughout the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act generally requires employers to move workers who may lose their jobs because of disabilities into vacant positions for which they are qualified. This is a very important protection under federal employment law, because a disability can strike an American worker at any time and this should not automatically result in job loss.