Embracing Disability in the Workplace
Many companies and business owners realize that employees with disabilities, including Veterans, bring unique and exceptional benefits to the workplace. These employees are diverse, hard-working and reliable individuals who have mastered problem solving skills and are able to continually adapt to challenging situations and circumstances in their daily lives. It is important to be familiar with the different aspects of Military Disability, such as Disability Ratings and best practices to follow when interviewing and hiring Veterans.
What is Military Disability?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, approximately 13% of Veterans have reported a Military Disability. A Veteran qualifies for military disability if the individual received some type of service-related injury or illness. Service-related is defined as an injury or illness that was caused or aggravated by the Veteran’s time in the military. Most often the injury or illness occurred while the service member was conducting missions in support of their job function, similar to a civilian with a Worker’s Compensation injury or illness. Employers should note that conditions present prior to service, such as hereditary or genetic disorders, are not considered service related. Just like the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), employers cannot discriminate against disabled Veterans when conducting hiring, promotion, and/or retention actions.
The conditions that are associated with Military Disability can vary drastically. From minor hearing loss as a result of working in a loud workspace to the loss of a limb, almost any service-related injury or illness can qualify for Military Disability if it occurred while the individual was in the Military. In other cases, Military Disability may be identified years after the individual left military service, provided the cause of the disability can be attributed to time spent in service.
Disability ratings refer to the percentage of disability experienced by the individual. Ratings are assigned based on medical conditions and severity, and are set by the Ratings Authority. The Ratings Authority looks at each individual person and assigns a rating that reflects the degree to which their disability will impact the individual's future state of well-being, and/or how much the disability will affect them in social or work environments. Each Disability rating includes two numerical designators. The first designation is for the type of injury (such as an injury to the shoulder), and the second is how the injury affects the individual (injury caused traumatic arthritis).
Accommodating Disabled Veterans
The same employer accommodation requirements within the ADA also support Disabled Veterans. This includes providing reasonable accommodations (accommodations are considered reasonable when they do not cause undue hardship, significant difficulty or expense to the employer) to support the Disabled Veteran in their work duties and responsibilities. Examples of reasonable accommodations include reconfiguring a workspace to support walking aids, lowering/raising desks or shelves, adjusting work schedules, and providing instructions in writing instead of via verbal communication.
When Inquiring about Military Disability
Care must be taken when interviewing applicants to ensure that your organization remains compliant with federal regulation as it relates to inquiring about a Military Disability.
- Do not ask specific medical questions unless those questions are asked of all employees hired by the company, or are required to support a request for an accommodation.
- Do not ask how the injury occurred, or what type of previous medical treatments have occurred in relation to the injury.
- Employers may ask if the applicant is a Disabled Veteran, but may not ask for medical information prior to making a job offer.
- If an applicant voluntarily indicates that they have a disability before or during the interview, interviewers can ask if the candidate will need “reasonable accommodations” to fulfill the position requirements.
- Instead of asking about specific disabilities, employers should ask if accommodations may be required for the applicant to perform the job.
- Private employers may, but are not required to, give preference to hiring a Veteran with a disability over a qualified applicant without a disability without repercussion.
Hiring Disabled Veterans is an excellent way to increase diversity and improve morale and productivity within your company.