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.
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.