PEAK — PROMOTING EDUCATION, AWARENESS, AND KNOWLEDGE
University of the Rockies is proud to share our PEAK initiative: Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge. Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways you can participate.
Opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University.
OCTOBER 2014 – NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH
Finding a "Place" in the Workplace
by Dylan Self, Military Student Advisor at University of the Rockies
Pete Nicholson went from being a distinguished employee with the Security Insurance Corporation to being terminated. Nicholson had undergone surgery to remove a tumor from his brain. During his recovery, his coworkers began to notice his diminished performance (Veiga, et al. 1999). Unfortunately for Pete and for millions of other American workers, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is still a stigma associated with being disabled. The silent prejudice they experience is rather common.
Although the ADA succeeded in making employment more available for people living with disabilities, some argue it has not removed all of the barriers to gainful employment or rid the workplace of prejudice. According to Robert and Harlan, “The [ADA] has been properly heralded as the most significant civil rights legislation since 1964. Among other things, the ADA acknowledges systemic employment barriers for people with disabilities, who currently make up 19.2 percent of the US population” (Robert and Harlan 2006). Through their interviews in the workplace, they concluded that workers with disabilities routinely encounter instances of marginalization, fictionalization of their disabilities, and harassment in their day-to-day interactions with coworkers and supervisors. Many employers and coworkers hold negative stereotypes of people with disabilities. Those stereotypes prevent people from being hired, being employed in sufficiently challenging jobs, or acting as advocates for their careers (Hunt and Hunt 2004).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many potential employees with disabilities are not participating in the workforce for various reasons. Around 12 percent of the labor force qualifies as working with a disability as of August 2014. While there are roughly 29 million Americans working with disabilities, there are an additional 23 million who are not participating in the labor force.
Once Nicholson returned to work, he was transferred to a less stressful position in the underwriting department. His performance was viewed as below average, he appeared to delay taking action on complicated cases which called for immediate decisions, and ultimately his supervisor decided he should be terminated for his performance (Veiga 1999). In Pete’s opinion, his supervisor made unfair comparisons based on his prior work performance, and he was meeting the job requirements at the time. He needed to keep the position so his wife could stay home with their two children. Pete’s supervisor, Bill, said that Pete should have taken permanent disability leave, as it would provide medical coverage and income for his family.
John Veiga asked three leaders of The Executive’s advisory board what Bill should have done instead of terminating Nicholson. Dr. Alan Harvey of Harvard Medical School suggested Pete’s story underscored the need for ethical beneficence in situations like this, advocating a balance between the employee’s best interests versus those of the firm. Jerome DeLuccio, a senior VP at Canadaigua Wine Company, pointed out that Bill needed to develop clear performance expectations and understand the factors involved. Jorge Luna, Human Resources Director at the Houstonian Hotel, Club, and Spa, said that once the company became aware of Pete’s disability, they should have requested an assessment of his health and left it to his physician to decide his ability to perform his job.
True, the ADA has given people with disabilities more legal protection and opportunity. But unfortunately for people like Nicholson, the ADA doesn’t protect them from prejudice.
Hunt, Courtney Shelton and Hunt, Brandon. (Summer 2004). Changing Attitudes Toward People with Disabilities: Experimenting with an Educational Intervention. Journal of Managerial Issues. Retrieved on September 9th, 2014.
Robert, Pamela M. and Harlan, Sharon L. (Autumn 2006). Mechanisms of Disability Discrimination in Large Bureaucratic Organizations: Ascriptive Inequalities in the Workplace. The Sociological Quarterly. Retrieved on September 9th, 2014.
Table A-6. Employment status of the civilian population by sex, age, and disability status, not seasonally adjusted. (N.D.) Retrieved on September 9th, 2014 from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t06.htm
Veiga, John F., et al. (May 1999). Toward Greater Understanding in the Workplace. Academy of Management. Retrieved on September 9th, 2014.
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