October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month – a time to celebrate the skills, talents and contributions of workers with disabilities, as well as remind employers of the importance of inclusion. The theme for 2018 is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All,” which reflects an ongoing commitment to a robust, diverse and competitive American workforce.
Inclusion starts with hiring. Do your hiring practices support all potential future hires, including those with disabilities? While certain guidelines apply when interviewing any job candidate, screening applicants with disabilities calls for special considerations – and the reasons go beyond simply doing what’s right.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers with 15 or more employees – including state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions – must not discriminate against disabled individuals in any aspect of employment, including job application procedures and interviews as well as decisions about advancement, compensation and job training.
6 Best Practices for Hiring Candidates with Disabilities
To prevent discrimination against applicants with disabilities, the ADA recommends several tips and best practices during the hiring process:
- Conduct interviews in accessible locations
- When you’re interviewing candidates onsite, choose a location that will not present obstacles to individuals with disabilities. For example, if your building doesn’t have an elevator, reserve a room on the ground floor so applicants who use wheelchairs can be interviewed without difficulty.
- Honor requests for a reasonable accommodation
- If an applicant with a disability makes a reasonable request that will enable him or her to perform the job functions, the ADA requires that the employer accommodate the request, unless it presents an “undue hardship.” (An undue hardship is defined as an action causing significant difficulty or expense for your business.) For example, an applicant with a hearing impairment might request an interpreter during an interview – something that most businesses could honor with minimal trouble or expense.
- Inform candidates of any tests ahead of time
- By giving applicants advance notice of tests you plan to conduct during an interview, you provide an opportunity for disabled applicants to request a reasonable accommodation. The ADA requires that employers alter tests so applicants with disabilities don’t have to use their impaired skills – unless the test is designed to measure that skill. For example, a visually impaired individual applying for a receptionist position may request that a test designed to measure customer service skills be given orally rather than in writing (again, a reasonable request that would not present significant trouble or expense for the business). On the other hand, it’s acceptable to give a standard mock phone test to an applicant with a hearing impairment if he or she is applying for a telemarketing position.
- Focus on the essential functions of the job
- When interviewing applicants with disabilities, ask questions related only to the tasks defined in the job description. For example, employees who work in a warehouse may occasionally move heavy boxes. But unless lifting boxes is an essential function of the job being filled, do not ask physically disabled applicants how they would perform this task. (A “reasonable accommodation” may include having a different employee move the occasional heavy box.) Also, watch how you pose questions: Asking applicants how they would complete an essential task is okay; asking applicants whether their disabilities would interfere with the task is not.
- Wait until the applicant mentions accommodations
- You can only ask about accommodations if an applicant has already mentioned he or she would need one, or if you know the applicant has a disability that would affect his or her ability to perform an essential job function. Otherwise, you can’t assume that an applicant with a disability will need an accommodation to perform the work.
- Use appropriate language when taking notes
- When taking notes in an interview, disabilities should only be mentioned in context of the job or accommodation requests, not as a way to remember the candidate. If you jot down any information, be sensitive to the correct terminology for people with disabilities. The term “handicapped” isn’t acceptable, and the ADA recommends using phrases that put the person first, such as “applicant has a disclosed mental disability” or “applicant uses a wheelchair.”
Streamline Your Hiring Process While Avoiding Legal Missteps
For additional safeguards against discrimination claims during the hiring process, use the Applicant Tracking Smart App from HRdirect. This low-cost web app provides a simple, modern way to track and evaluate candidates, including a 5-star scoring scale to compare candidates fairly and objectively.