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Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor

Guide on Employing People with Disabilities

If you are an employer that is covered by one or more of the laws described in this Advisor, you have specific responsibilities related to the employment of individuals with disabilities. These legal requirements are designed to help ensure that qualified job candidates and employees with disabilities have equal opportunities in all aspects of employment in your business, agency, or organization.

This guidance provides additional information and resources that will help you comply with Federal and state nondiscrimination laws and, at the same time, help you meet your hiring, productivity, mission and business goals.

Talent Acquisition: Recruiting and Hiring People with Disabilities

On the Job: Ensuring Workplace Productivity, Health, and Safety

Retention Strategies: Keeping Valued Employees

Additional DOL Employer Resources

Please note that the information contained in this portion of the Advisor is for informational purposes only and is not designed to be a substitute for legal advice. These resources are not exhaustive and the U.S. Department of Labor (the Labor Department) will continue to add information and provide regular updates.


Recruiting Qualified Candidates

Finding qualified employees is one of the top challenges for public and private sector employers of all sizes. Millions of workers are needed to fill new jobs each year and to replace employees who have quit or retired. Acquiring and developing new talent is critical, and these tips will help you do just that by giving you the information and resources you need to expand your talent pool by including candidates with disabilities:

Be Proactive. Some Federal nondiscrimination laws, such as Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, require covered employers to actively engage in affirmative activities to recruit and employ people with disabilities. While others, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), do not require employers to undertake any specific activities to recruit people with disabilities, expanding your outreach to target qualified candidates with disabilities is consistent with the ADA's goals and can result in a significant expansion of your labor pool. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), funded by Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), can help organizations implement strategies to proactively recruit people with disabilities.

Ensure Access. The nondiscrimination laws in this Advisor require employers to make sure that their recruitment activities do not screen out potential applicants with disabilities. For example, you must not recruit at a location that is physically inaccessible to someone using a wheelchair and, if needed, you must provide reasonable accommodations to any interested participants with disabilities. Many employers have moved towards using online application systems as their primary methods for accepting applications for employment. While some of these systems may be accessible to individuals with disabilities others are not. Irrespective of the level of accessibility of the online application system employers must ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity for employment. Resources for ensuring that your website and application systems are accessible are available on the EARN website. For personalized guidance on making your recruitment activities accessible and for ideas on incorporating reasonable accommodations into the recruiting process, contact the Job Accommodation Network, which is supported by ODEP.

Expand Your Talent Pipeline. For a truly diverse, vibrant pipeline of talent, employers must tap into all internal and external sources. Mentoring activities and internships targeting youth with disabilities will help employers expand and build your talent pipelines. For guidance and additional information, you may want to use these fact sheets:

In addition, there are several internship programs that specifically target college students with disabilities:

Utilize New Resources. In addition to your usual recruitment methods, be sure to seek out new recruitment ideas and resources for publicizing job opportunities and identifying qualified candidates with disabilities. By expanding beyond your traditional recruitment strategies, you will not only be complying with affirmative hiring requirements, but you will also be actively identifying new sources of the talent, skills and expertise you need.

  • Strategic Connections: Recruiting Candidates with Disabilities is a fact sheet from ODEP that can be used to educate human resource staff and managers on finding qualified job candidates with disabilities.
  • EARN is a service from ODEP that connects public and private sector employers with local resources to find skilled job candidates. All of the services are free and include one-on-one consulting services; tools for expanding diversity outreach efforts; links to disability organizations and ideas on recruitment partnerships; and a monthly employer e-newsletter with innovative tips for recruiting individuals with disabilities.
  • JAN has fact sheets, videos, and webcasts on providing accommodations in the recruiting process and on specific recruiting strategies, as well as resources by role for private businesses, Federal employers , and state and local government employers.

Hiring Qualified Individuals with Disabilities

The goal of an employer's hiring process is to identify individuals who have the best mix of skills and attributes for the available jobs. Although different types and sizes of employers may use different strategies, one of the keys to achieving your hiring objectives is ensuring that all qualified individuals can participate in the hiring process. By reviewing your hiring procedures and utilizing the Labor Department's employer resources, you will find it easy to comply with Federal disability nondiscrimination laws, widen your pool of potential talent, and ensure that you don'tmiss out when the best candidate for a job happens to have a disability. A good place to start is by reading Diversifying Your Workforce: A Four-Step Reference Guide to Recruiting, Hiring, & Retaining Employees with Disabilities and Opening Doors to All Candidates: Tips for Ensuring Access for Applicants with Disabilities.

Job Advertisements and Applications. Employers must ensure that their application processes provide equal opportunities for applicants with disabilities. For example, printed job postings should be made available, as needed, in alternate formats such as large print. In addition, the wording of a job application must not violate Federal nondiscrimination laws by asking disability-related questions. For useful tips, see the Employers' Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A growing issue is use of the Internet in the application process, with many employers using online systems to post jobs and receive applications. Because some of these online tools are not accessible to individuals with certain types of disabilities, employers covered by Federal disability nondiscrimination laws need to make sure that their Internet application processes do not prevent job seekers with disabilities from applying for jobs. You may need to make modifications or adjustments to your job application process to enable qualified applicants with disabilities to apply for job openings. Some simple modifications to your Web page design will generally make your online systems accessible to all users. To learn about simple online solutions, check out these resources from the JAN, a free service offered by the Office of Disability Employment Policy: Making the Online Application Process Accessible under the ADA and Tips for Designing Accessible Web Pages. You can also review the available resources on online systems accessibility and assistive technology on the EARN website.

Interviews. Job interviews play a critical role in the hiring process, providing employers with information they need to evaluate an applicant's knowledge, skills and qualifications for a particular position. To be qualified for a particular position, individuals with disabilities, like all other applicants, must have the necessary qualifications (e.g., education, training, experience, skills, and/or licenses) for the position and be able to perform the essential functions or duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

Discrimination during interviews can be unintentional, resulting because an employer doesn't have accurate information, or is making decisions based on stereotypes, about people with disabilities. So how can you get the information you need from job candidates without violating Federal and state nondiscrimination laws? By remembering one basic rule: Ask applicants about their abilities, not their disabilities.

You may ask questions about an applicant's ability to perform specific job functions ("This job would require you to regularly lift 50-pound boxes of paper. Would you be able to do that?"). You should not make assumptions about what an applicant can and cannot do ("I've never worked with someone who is blind. I'm not sure you could do this job."). You must not ask questions about the existence or nature of a disability ("Why exactly do you use a wheelchair?"). Note that if you know an applicant has a disability, either because it's obvious or because the individual has volunteered that information, you may ask whether a reasonable accommodation is needed for the applicant to perform a specific task.

Each of the nondiscrimination laws covered by this Advisor requires that covered employers refrain from improperly asking job applicants for disability and/or medical information. The following resources from ODEP, JAN and EARN will assist you in complying with the legal requirements and linking you to the information you need to hire qualified individuals:

Business Incentives

In addition to helping ensure compliance with the nondiscrimination, equal opportunity, and affirmative action policies discussed in this Advisor, a diverse, inclusive workforce has many additional benefits for businesses, agencies, and organizations. In addition, there are specific incentives available to both private and public sector employers who want to hire individuals with disabilities.

Return on Investment. Industry and focus group research and interviews with employers of all sizes done by ODEP show that employees with disabilities make numerous contributions to a business or organizational workforce. Both ODEP and EARN offer additional materials about, and examples of, the business reasons for hiring people with disabilities:

Tax Benefits for Private Employers. There are three types of tax incentives available to help employers cover accommodation costs for employees with disabilities and/or to make their businesses accessible: (1) the Architectural/Transportation Tax Deduction, an annual deduction for expenses that businesses may incur to remove physical, structural, and transportation barriers for people with disabilities; (2) the Small Business Disabled Access Credit for small businesses (30 or fewer employees) that remove barriers, or provide communication aids, assistive technology, or certain types of reasonable accommodations, for people with disabilities; and (3) the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for employers that hire individuals from certain targeted groups, including some individuals with disabilities.

Human Capital Benefits for Federal Employers. Federal agencies can also use special hiring rules to help meet their management and human capital goals by hiring employees with disabilities. The Federal government has specific hiring authorities that can be used to hire people with disabilities and certain veterans with disabilities by streamlining the hiring process and shortening the amount of time it takes to fill a vacancy. Using these rules to hire qualified individuals with disabilities can be a good option for managers and supervisors who want or need to fill vacancies quickly. For additional information on the benefits to Federal employers, and for a summary with links to the relevant hiring authorities, visit these resources from the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN), a free service of ODEP:


Federal disability nondiscrimination laws apply to all aspects of employment, including wages, health benefits, promotions, training, leave, and other conditions and privileges related to the workplace. Three topics that affect several of these areas, and that raise many questions for employers are: communicating effectively with people who have different types of disabilities; providing accommodations in the workplace; and emergency planning and safety concerns.

Effective Communication

It can be an awkward subject to discuss, but it is common for employers to have questions about how they should interact with people who use wheelchairs, or who are blind or deaf, or whom they find difficult to understand - especially if the employer hasn't previously interacted with someone who has a disability. Employers and co-workers may be concerned that they will say the wrong thing, ask an inappropriate question, or unintentionally offend an applicant or colleague with a disability.

To ensure effective inclusion and management of employees with disabilities, you may benefit from increasing (or refreshing) your knowledge of disability "etiquette" and communication tips. Although the general rule is to just use common sense and good manners, there are some useful things that you may not know. For example, employers and co-workers should not pet or distract a service dog being used by an employee with a disability.

When it comes to disability "etiquette," many employers do not intend to be rude they often just don't know what they don't know! These two resources from DOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Job Accommodation Network will give you some helpful tips for communicating and interacting effectively, with examples and links to additional resources:

Reasonable Accommodations

All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively perform their jobs. Employers accommodate workers every day whether or not those workers have disabilities to build a loyal, dedicated and productive workforce. For example, many employers use flexible work schedules to accommodate employee family responsibilities, and some provide ergonomic chairs or computer keypads to prevent pain or discomfort.

If you are covered by the disability nondiscrimination laws discussed in this Advisor, you will be required to provide reasonable accommodations, if needed, for qualified employees with disabilities. "Reasonable accommodations" are modifications or adjustments to jobs, work environments, or workplace policies that enable qualified employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs and have equal opportunity to receive the benefits available to employees without disabilities. Reasonable accommodations can include everything from "no-tech" adjustments, such as raising a desk up a few inches on blocks so that an employee using a wheelchair can use a desk; to high tech equipment, such as an amplified stethoscope for a doctor with a hearing impairment, or voice-activated software for an employee who can’t use their hands; to changes in policies, such as allowing additional breaks for an employee to take medication.

Accommodations can help you hire new workers with disabilities, ensure productivity in the workplace, and also retain workers who may acquire a disability or become ill. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation and there are many myths about accommodations. The reality is that providing job accommodations for employees with disabilities is often easier and cheaper than is commonly believed, and the professional contributions and commitment of people with disabilities in the workplace generally far outweigh the costs. ODEP has done research documenting the cost-effectiveness and multiple benefits of providing accommodations, which are discussed in Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact. In addition, there are many other tools and resources on accommodations strategies for employers, managers, and human resources specialists:

  • JAN is a free service of ODEP, and is the leading resource in the U.S. on reasonable accommodations and workplace strategies related to job applicants and employees with disabilities. JAN's services, summarized in Customized Solutions for Today's Workforce: The Job Accommodation Network, include these consultation, technical assistance, and accommodations solutions available (by phone or online) to employers:
    • JAN's website includes information on accommodations, assistive technology, nondiscrimination laws, and other disability and employment-related topics. In addition, the website includes the Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR), an interactive Web tool for employers and others that helps identify possible accommodation solutions for employees with specific disabilities and/or illnesses.
    • JAN's Training Services include in-person training and Webcasts; presentations, workshops, and outreach; and an annual national conference targeting employers, human resources and EEO specialists, disability management professionals, and employee relations managers.
    • JAN's Consultants' Corner provides regular e-mails with up-to-date expert advice, tips and ideas on accommodations and assistive technology tips.
    • Links to Business and Accommodations Resources, with JAN providing easy, "one-stop" portals for employers who want to access accommodation information from other relevant organizations and Federal agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

These are some of the most helpful accommodation-related print resources for employers from JAN and ODEP:

Safety and Emergency Preparedness for Employees with Disabilities

As an employer covered by Federal disability nondiscrimination laws, you must ensure that your workplace safety and emergency management procedures consider the needs of employees (and customers and/or visitors) with disabilities. Some employers are hesitant to recruit or hire people with disabilities due to concerns about securing their safety during emergencies. However, just as with other employees, simple advance planning will ensure the safety of individuals with disabilities. DOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Job Accommodation Network have prepared several helpful resources for you on emergency preparedness in the workplace as it relates to people with disabilities.


Employee retention is one of the most critical issues facing employers as they deal with employee turnover, a shortage of skilled labor, economic growth and global competition, and the retirement of the baby boomers. Employer focus-group research done by ODEP found that a majority of senior executives and human resources professionals felt that one of their greatest challenges was retention. Employers face huge turnover costs in lost expertise, recruiting and replacement expenses, and decreased productivity.

Most retention strategies will apply to all employees. Some, such as career development and training opportunities, have disability-related aspects that you should consider if you want to retain talented employees with disabilities. You should also be familiar with leave laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), that intersect with Federal disability nondiscrimination laws, as these laws affect the retention and return-to-work of employees who are injured on the job, acquire a disability, or develop a chronic illness.

Career Development

One of the main reasons workers leave their jobs is a lack of career advancement opportunities, making career development an important retention strategy for most employers. As an employer covered by the Federal disability nondiscrimination laws discussed in this Advisor, you must ensure that employees with disabilities have equal opportunities for promotion, and you must provide employees with disabilities equal opportunities to benefit from career resources offered to other employees, such as training to improve job performance and promote career advancement.

In addition, you may need to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure that employees with disabilities can fully participate in training opportunities. Examples include modifying training schedules to allow for extra breaks, using sign language interpreters or note-takers for employees who are deaf, providing materials in a variety of formats, such as large print, and ensuring that online training systems are accessible. There are many accommodations resources from the Job Accommodation Network that can help employers when considering the career development needs of employees with disabilities, including information about disability etiquette.

Medical- and Disability-Related Leave

When employees become ill or injured, or acquire a disability, they may be entitled to medical or disability-related leave under multiple Federal and state laws. Disability nondiscrimination laws permit you to provide leave as a reasonable accommodation for qualified employees with disabilities in certain circumstances; family and medical leave laws require certain employers to provide leave for employees with serious medical conditions; and workers compensation laws require employers to provide leave for employees who are injured on the job. Depending on the situation, one or more of these laws may apply to the same employee. DOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy has a useful fact sheet for employers and human resources professionals who need to sort out which leave laws apply:

Return-to-Work Strategies

Many employees who experience an illness or injury can remain on the job if employers and managers implement effective retention strategies into your transition, light duty or other return-to-work efforts. Employers that effectively use accommodations, when appropriate, and other retention strategies reduce their workers' compensation costs, increase productivity by returning employees to work earlier, and address secondary conditions, such as depression, that can develop when an employee is out on extended leave after an injury.

Almost half of the calls received by JAN involve return-to-work issues, with JAN consultants providing one-on-one assistance to employers on a range of related issues, such as handling light duty limitations and managing side effects of treatment or medications, such as fatigue.


Resources on Employing People with Disabilities

General Employment Resources

The Labor Department administers and enforces most Federal employment laws, including those covering wages, safety and health standards, employee health and retirement benefits, and the employment policies of Federal contractors. There are also other Federal agencies that administer employment-related laws, such the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces employment nondiscrimination laws such as Title I (the employment section) of the ADA.

The majority of employment laws apply the same way to all employees, whether or not they have disabilities. However, some laws are specifically designed to protect applicants for employment and employees who have disabilities (such as the ADA); some laws apply to a specific group of people that includes a large percentage of individuals with disabilities (such as the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which includes provisions giving specific rights to disabled veterans); and some laws, such as state workers' compensation laws, that apply to all employees but have disability-related implications when employees are injured or acquire disabilities on the job.

Employment laws can be complex, and understanding and implementing them may seem very challenging, especially for small businesses. In addition to the resources listed in other sections of this guidance, there are many other Labor Department resources that address issues related directly or indirectly to employees with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses. Some examples include

  • Compliance Assistance. The Labor Department has many compliance assistance resources designed to provide accurate and easy-to-access information for employers and other DOL customers (such as workers and retirees) on Federal employment laws. These resources include technology-based tools such as the elaws Advisors and the Compliance Assistance Web Portal.
  • Health Benefits. The Labor Department holds employer seminars on state and Federal health benefits laws and provides a range of employer tools on health benefits, including the Employer's Guide to Group Health Continuation Coverage Under COBRA in both English and Spanish.
  • Health and Safety. The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers disability-related fact sheets, such as Innovative Workplace Safety Accommodations for Hearing-Impaired Workers, and ergonomics resources for effectively addressing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. The Labor Department also leads the Safety, Health and Return-to-Employment (SHARE) Initiative on reducing occupational injuries and illnesses within the Federal government.
  • Labor Trends. The Labor Department's Career One-Stop: Resources for Business and Human Resources provides employer hiring tools, including up-to-date information on labor trends.
  • Nondiscrimination. The Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs offers many resources on nondiscrimination for employers doing business with the Federal government, including nondiscrimination notices and posters that are downloadable in English, Spanish and Chinese. Similarly, the Labor Department's Civil Rights Center offers resources on compliance with nondiscrimination and equal opportunity requirements that apply to employers who receive Federal financial assistance, particularly those who offer services through the nation's Career OneStop service delivery system.
  • Talent Development and Acquisition. The Labor Department provides resources for employers on how to tap into new talent through partnering with the workforce development system, The Public Workforce System: Talent Development for Your Business.
  • Veterans. The Labor Department sponsored HireVetsFirst is a comprehensive website for managers and human resource specialists who want to hire veterans of America's military, including veterans with disabilities who are protected under the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA).
  • Workers Compensation. The Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs administers four major disability compensation programs that provide wage replacement benefits, medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation, and other benefits to certain workers who have work-related injuries or occupational diseases.

General Disability Resources

  • JAN, a service of ODEP, provides tools and strategies for hiring, accommodating and retaining employees with disabilities.