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How to Avoid Disability Discrimination in Hiring Lawsuits

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

An undercover cover letter sting exposed employers as discriminating against disabled job candidates, according to the New York Times. Researchers sent thousands of fake resumés and cover letters to employers, some purporting to be from applicants with a disability. The results showed that employers 26 percent less likely to show interest in candidates that disclosed a disability.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against disabled persons in job application and procedures. So how do you make sure your small business is ADA compliant?

Know When the ADA Applies

The ADA applies to any private employer, state or local government, employment agency, or labor unions that have 15 or more employees. And ADA requirements apply to all employment-related practices, starting with job applications, recruitment, advertising, and hiring. So make sure you're starting off on the right foot.

Know How to Ask About a Disability

For the most part, employers can inquire about an applicant's ability to do a job or perform work-related functions, but cannot inquire about the specific disability itself. For instance, asking prospective employees whether physical disability would prevent them from lifting heavy objects is impermissible, but asking more generally how they would go about lifting heavy objects is generally allowed.

Know How to Be Consistent With Questions and Responses

The biggest indicator of discrimination is when applicants with disabilities are treated differently than other applicants, as they were in the study referenced above. So it is crucial that you are consistent with your questions. Meaning if you ask disabled persons about performing work-related tasks, make sure you are asking all of your applicants the same question.

Know Your Rights

As an employer, you are free to choose the most qualified candidate for a job. The ADA does not require you to give disabled persons special treatment -- quite the opposite: it requires you to treat disabled persons the same as any other candidate.

If you need assistance putting together ADA-compliant hiring procedures, you may want to contact an experienced employment law attorney near you.

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