Students with Disabilities Learn Their Rights in the Workplace

The SGA Disability Inclusion Committee and the Office of Disability Services held a luncheon on Feb. 3 to inform students about the rights of people with disabilities both on campus and in the workplace.

Michelle Crew, an outreach and training coordinator from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was present to answer questions and provide information about filing a charge against an employer.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49.7 million Americans suffer from a disability. Of those, about 18.6 million from the ages 16 to 64 are employed. These figures indicate that a large number of people with disabilities are currently employed or will seek employment at some point during their lives.

Crew said that employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities unless they can prove it would cause undue hardship to the company. Accommodations include anything that would facilitate an individual in performing their job, such as a modified work schedule.

“They can’t focus on the disability; they have to focus on the job,” remarked Crew.

Although companies are required to provide accommodations, employees are still discriminated against.

“Discrimination means you’re being treated differently,” said Crew.

If employees do find themselves facing discrimination, Crew described the process of filing a charge against the company.

The employee should first contact the equal opportunity agency which will file a charge on their behalf. Once the charge is filed, the employer has a chance to explain their actions and try to correct the action if possible.

A team of investigators will examine paper work, statistics, documents and any other evidence they can find. “Our job is to see if there’s a violation,” commented Crew.

If a violation is found, the employer must then go through a reconciliation process. Crew said this process involves a wide range of options for the employer including paying fines or punitive damages, providing reasonable accommodations, paying for medical costs or increasing wages.

If the violation is not reconciled, the case can go to court or the agency will litigate the case on behalf of the employee.

Maria Codinach, the director of the CSU affirmative action office, said that some employers are known to retaliate against employees who file charges. Retaliation can include firing the employee or continuing discriminatory actions.

“To me, retaliation is worse because a person has federal rights and you can’t interfere with federal rights,” commented Codinach.

She said that if retaliation occurs, the employee should speak to the head of their Human Resources department or contact the agency.

Crew said that her agency will guide employees through the process of filing a charge. She said that the process is free for the employee, but the time it takes to resolve the case may vary.

“Our goal is six months, but it may take longer,” said Crew.

Codinach said that to avoid problems employees should think in advance about what accommodations they will need to perform their job. She noted that larger companies are usually more familiar with accommodations than smaller companies.