Ever since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there has been a major shift in time-honored traditions at countless companies—most notably in rules governing working from home. While it’s in everyone’s best interests for employees to be permitted to work from home during a pandemic, it raises some problematic questions going forward for disabled workers and those who may be discriminated against due to disability. Some recent accessibility questions have shed light on bias against disabled workers.
Antidiscrimination Laws Have Little Bite
In recent months and weeks, more and more companies, educational institutions, and public services have moved much of their business online, offering countless accessible options from contactless pizza delivery to online classes. However, this has been somewhat bittersweet for disabled people—especially disabled workers or former applicants for jobs who were told that their access needs were impossible to meet. Employers have a long history of sub rosa discrimination against disabled people, though much of the evidence is anecdotal (little research is done on the experiences of disabled workers, unfortunately).
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prevents discrimination against disabled people in several areas of life, including employment—at least on paper. It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. While the word “reasonable” has no statutory definition, it generally means that the accommodation cannot be unduly expensive or burdensome to the employer. However, “burdensome” is relative in itself, and too often, claiming something is “burdensome” is how many employers manage to avoid hiring disabled employees or accommodating the ones they have.
A New Framework?
For disabled workers, just as much as for non-disabled workers, being employed is absolutely crucial to livelihood—arguably even more so during the current pandemic, because many relief options do not apply to disabled people (who are less likely to file taxes, or may interfere with being able to collect disability payments). However, there have already been allegations in South Carolina of workers being fired for discriminatory purposes. It can be easy for an unethical employer to see a disabled worker as a burden, despite the increase in accessibility for so many industries.
While obviously, more accessibility for everyone is a positive in the midst of a pandemic, and it can be jarring and enraging for a disabled worker to see such easily offered accessibility when they may have previously been denied job opportunities due to their needs being too “burdensome.” It remains to be seen how much of the currently existing telework framework will remain in use once the threat of COVID-19 has been neutralized. But if it persists, it may give disabled people both more employment opportunities and, paradoxically, more evidence of discrimination if they are denied work due to their condition.
Contact An Employment Discrimination Lawyer
Recent accessibility questions in light of the current pandemic have shed light on bias against disable workers. In such turbulent times, it can feel impossible as a disabled worker to try and receive anything close to justice when you have been discriminated against. However, there are people who are willing to help. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has years of experience in dealing with discrimination cases, and is ready to discuss your options. The firm of Hitchcock & Potts will work hard for you. Contact our office today to speak to an attorney.