Employees With Disabilities

 Employees With Disabilities

TAPPING INTO THIS INVISIBLE WORKFORCE

By Charlie Graham

When the unemployment rate dips below five percent, that’s great for the Texas economy, but finding qualified job candidates becomes increasingly difficult for employers. When the unemployment rate falls below four percent, Texas employers must begin redoubling recruiting efforts. That means finding new ways to identify those great people who are not already working.

There’s a hidden pool of qualified, enthusiastic, eager and skilled job candidates in every market who have been continually overlooked. This overlooked employee pool is comprised of people who have a disability.

In 2009, the U.S. Congress broadened the definition of disability to include millions more Americans. Far beyond those in wheelchairs or those with developmental disabilities, the definition of what constitutes a disability has expanded under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), ranging from diabetes to asthma to even sleep disorders. Given this broader definition, chances are most companies have already hired someone with a disabling condition and they just don’t know it.

Why should a company proactively hire people with disabling conditions? Smart employers looking for new ways to compete will recognize assumptions about employees with disabilities are rarely accurate. For example, many employees with disabilities acquired their conditions as adults, either from an illness injury or from military service. That means they’ve attained education, often with advanced degrees – such as MBAs – and certifications and have experience working for businesses of all sizes. Most of these employees often do not consider themselves “disabled.”

In the Texas business community, it’s par for the course to expend substantial time and money recruiting employees from outside the country because employers believe there are not enough candidates in the U.S. to fill open roles. Most companies aren’t even aware of the competitive edge they could give themselves if just a fraction of those resources were dedicated to seeking qualified talent among employees with disabilities right here in Texas.

How can employers tap into this motivated, talented pool of employees while being sensitive to a candidate’s condition? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), job candidates cannot be asked if they have a disability before they have been offered the job. However, they have issued guidance and avenues for employers to actively recruit job candidates that have disabilities. Here are a few steps to take:

  1. Become an Affirmative Action Employer for Disabled Veterans and all people with disabilities. That means publishing a policy of giving hiring preference to such people who can perform the essential functions of the job opening.
  2. Advertise with position announcements that the company is an Affirmative Action Employer giving preference in hiring (and other employment practices) to qualified disabled candidates.
  3. Seek out the candidates and make them offers. One concern in hiring employees qualifying as disabled is making exceptions or expensive accommodations. In reality, most qualified candidates require very little, if any job accommodation, and where it is needed, it is usually a very reasonable request.
  4. Set a hiring goal for a percentage of employees who have disabilities. An employer can use the benchmark of federal contractors, which are required to set a seven percent hiring goal for disabled candidates in every business unit. Track progress toward achieving these goals.
  5. Publish the results of progress toward attaining the hiring goal. This speaks volumes about the company’s commitment, and employees will notice. They will then refer more good people.

Keep in mind that incorporating these suggestions does not mean a company should surrender its standards of performance or conduct to which all employees are held accountable. An employer should look for all the talent that matches the roles the company needs – and then fill them with people who are ready and willing to go to work.

The battle for talent is fierce and those who employ the same old strategies will get the same old results. However, those who think differently and find valuable candidates where others fear to go are the competitors who will come out on top.

Charlie Graham is CEO of Texas-based Peak Performers.       

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