Workplace Initiative weekly news roundup: February 17, 2020

Here are some highlights from this week’s news about disability inclusion in the workforce — and how you can use this information to make your company the best it can be.

1. Military veteran wins settlement for being denied service animal at work

What’s reported: Military veteran Laura Ritt wanted to bring her service animal to her job at a St. Paul, Minnesota, petroleum refinery. But when her employer denied the request, it led to a lawsuit and a $75,000 settlement, the Star Tribune reports. 

The former administrative assistant at Marathon Petroleum Corp. was hired in 2014 after being honorably discharged from the Air Force Reserve. She has a chronic psychological disability from a non-combat incident in the military. Ritt asked repeatedly for permission to bring a service dog to work to help her symptoms. But the company wouldn’t grant her requests because of “significant safety and practical concerns.”

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights ruled that the refinery had violated Ritt’s civil rights.

Though Ritt’s decision to leave her employer was in “mutual agreement” with the company, she is still unemployed. “When you have a service dog, the employment opportunities are so much narrower,” Ritt tells the Star Tribune.

The $75,000 agreement covers payment to Ritt for lost income, damages, and legal fees. And the settlement requires the refinery to: 

  • Reform their policies to protect employees with disabilities
  • Provide anti-discrimination training to employees
  • Work to recruit candidates with disabilities

What you can do: For some people with disabilities, service animals can be important workplace accommodations. Read more about best practices for employers on the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). And find out how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to service animals

2. How companies can make their recruiting process more inclusive

What’s reported: More companies are tapping into the talents of employees with disabilities, reports the Guardian. And you should, too.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young and manufacturing company Siemens have programs for “neurodiverse” employees. And consumer goods company Procter & Gamble (P&G) has teamed up with the U.K.’s National Autistic Society to recruit employees with autism spectrum disorder.

“To attract different thinkers, your approach needs to be different,” says Emma O’Leary, who heads P&G’s apprenticeship program. “The traditional method of verbal-based interviews is very limiting if social communication is a challenge.”

Liz Johnson is the co-founder of disability inclusion consultancy The Ability People. She has several suggestions for companies looking to become more inclusive:

  • Train interviewers “to allow neurodiverse candidates to perform at their best.”
  • Remove jargon from job descriptions.
  • Be clear in your communication that you welcome candidates with autism, ADHD, and other disabilities.

What you can do: When interviewing candidates, make sure you’re not overlooking qualified job seekers with disabilities: 

  • Consider alternate interview formats. For instance, a walking tour of your workplace or project could replace a traditional interview.
  • Grade candidates based on the needs of the position, not on traditional “people skills.”

Learn more about inclusive ways to rethink your interview strategy.

3. Advice for employers about coronavirus: Know the laws

What’s reported: As the spread of coronavirus continues to make headlines, employers need to be careful about how they respond, reports HR Dive

Businesses should be mindful of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when making decisions. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents employment discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” And the ADA protects against discrimination based on disability — sometimes in ways you might not expect.

“One thing that is sometimes forgotten is that the ADA has [multiple] pieces,” attorney Amy L. Blaisdell says. The ADA protects people with disabilities and those with a record of a disability. But it also protects people against discrimination for a disability they don’t have.

Blaisdell notes that an employer might find itself on the wrong side of the ADA if, “for example, an employer takes adverse action against an employee who was in China before the outbreak became public or who traveled to a different part of China because of a concern that he or she may have contracted the virus.”

What you can do: Make sure your company understands the nuances of ADA protection for employees. And get workplace coronavirus guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

4. The Accessible Canada Act (ACA): New legislation for a “barrier-free Canada”

What’s reported: In 2019, Canada passed the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). The ACA will help to “create a barrier-free Canada,” writes disability inclusion leader Tova Sherman in the Chronicle Herald.

Employers with Canadian operations will want to take note. Sherman argues that it’s “a crucial time to inform your management team that inclusion is a core commitment.” It's not just an afterthought — it’s necessary for “all businesses who want to be the best.”

The ACA applies to government agencies and the federally regulated private sector. Those employers need to:

  • Create accessibility plans
  • Set up feedback tools
  • Publish progress reports

According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability

  • Only 59 percent of Canadians with disabilities ages 25 to 64 are employed.
  • People with disabilities earn less than Canadians without disabilities — 12 percent less for those with milder disabilities, and 51 percent less for those with more severe disabilities. 

What you can do: Consider that the laws around disability inclusion may differ from place to place. Make sure you understand how any relevant laws apply to your business. And learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how it can impact foreign-related employment from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.