There comes a time when a business owner has to consider hiring employees if she wants to grow her company to the next level. Although a number of agencies can help match employees with employers, a growing pool of potential employees is often overlooked: people with disabilities. This is mostly due to what I call the “what if” fear factor that comes from not truly understanding the job capabilities of persons with disabilities (or not really wanting to take the time to do so); and assuming that the firm could end up in litigation down the line if it doesn’t work out.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act) and the American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 make it unlawful to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. My advice to clients is to investigate the opportunity, as you might be able to offset costs, get more-motivated employees, and create a win-win situation by hiring persons with disabilities.
Should you decide to hire someone with disabilities and a dispute does arise, a mediator can help you resolve the dispute. Following is a listing of considerations that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other government agencies provide to the employee to prepare for the mediation process.
Accommodation for the Mediation Process
Sometimes individuals with disabilities will need an accommodation to allow full participation in the mediation process. Accommodations might include:
• Assistance with verbal or written communications
• Specific meeting times or specific break times due to disability-related fatigue, medical treatment, medication, etc.
• Management of environmental factors such as light, noise, or chemicals
• Permission for a personal assistant to accompany a party throughout the mediation process
• Reminders about what is being discussed, the roles of others who are present, and the way the mediation process is conducted
• Other modification to the way mediation is ordinarily conducted.
An “individual with a disability” within the meaning of the ADA has a legal right to reasonable accommodation in mediation if it is not an undue hardship for the business. That is, it should not pose a significant difficulty or expense to the mediation provider’s resources or business operations, or fundamentally alter the mediation service. Many mediators will offer accommodation without regard to whether or not someone is a “qualified individual with a disability,” in order to facilitate full and meaningful participation by all parties.
Many organizations strive to provide employers with qualified employees, such as Partnerships With Industry, San Diego Workforce Partnership, the Wounded Warrior Project, state-supported disabled youth employment programs, and agency coalitions. They provide very successful partnerships with employers and disabled employees. So along with ADA guidelines for handling employee disputes, there are avenues aimed at reducing the “what if” fear factor among employers. The mediation process and other forms of alternative dispute resolution are tools that can be used by both parties. To date, they have played an important role in supporting the employment of this pool of workers.

About Your Columnist

Michelle Burkart is a featured columnist for Women Taking Charge, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she covers negotiation and conflict resolution. Currently, Michelle is the owner of TH!NKresolution, where she is a credentialed mediator; Hearing Officer for the San Diego Housing Commission; Member of the San Diego Superior Court Mediation panel as well as the NCRC Commercial Mediation Panel. Michelle manages and conducts business mediation services for TH!NKresolution to include pre-contract facilitation, contract disputes, personnel issues, conflict coaching and training, family business disputes, government agency disputes, and caregiver mediation.

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