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December 16, 2003

Rights of disabled extend to hiring process

From: Fort Pierce Tribune, FL - Dec 16, 2003

By Allan Appel dis-ABILITIES columnist

People with disabilities have rights relating to employment even before they are hired.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has just released a fact sheet on the rights of the disabled during the hiring process.

Everything is covered — including the job interview, employment testing, reasonable accommodations and handling medical information.

These rules apply to all state and local government employers, in addition to all private employers with 15 or more employees.

Just as an employer is obligated to provide reasonable accommodations on the job, so too must an employer accommodate a job applicant during the hiring process.

This might include providing a job application or a written test in an accessible format, such as Braille or large print, or utilizing a sign language interpreter. Or perhaps a more accessible location for the interview or testing is required.

Extra time might be needed for a written test because of a learning disability. Certainly, oral instructions would not be appropriate for an applicant who is deaf. And let's not forget a whole array of speech, manual and other sensory skills that could be impaired.

An exception applies, however, if the test is meant to measure the skill that is impaired.

The EEOC poses an example that a written test for a proofreading position does not need to be offered in a different format (e.g., orally) if the applicant is dyslexic, since the job itself requires the ability to read.

An applicant with a disability must request such an accommodation in advance from a prospective employer. Likewise, that applicant must be prepared to explain the reason for the accommodation.

Generally, an employer cannot require a medical examination or ask questions likely to disclose an applicant's disability prior to making a job offer.

However, in the case of an obvious disability, such as a missing limb or deafness, an employer may ask questions. But questions must relate to the effect of the disability on a specific job task, and to the specific accommodation needed for the prospective employee to perform that task.

Any suspected violation must be reported by filing a complaint with any local EEOC field office within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. In some cases, that period may extend to 300 days.

Relief may include hiring, back pay or a reasonable accommodation. It might even include attorney's fees.

The location of the nearest EEOC field office may be found by calling (800) 669-4000 (voice) or (800) 669-6820 (TTY).

© 2003 The E.W. Scripps Co.