The Handicapped & Ethics in the Workplace

Disabilities have no bearing on the skills needed for many jobs.
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Employees with disabilities work in almost every type of job. Supervisors or human resources staff who want to treat disabled employees or potential employees both legally and ethically may feel confused about how to handle different situations that can arise. In many cases, the best way to handle the situation is to treat the disabled employee the same as any other employee.

Avoiding Discrimination

    The most basic ethical and legal requirement for dealing with a disability is to avoid discriminating against the disabled employee or potential employee. For instance, if you assume a deaf applicant who is otherwise qualified would not be able to do a particular job, you could be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act if there is a reasonable accommodation that would make it possible for the applicant to do the job. Many jobs that may seem impossible for a person with a disability are not impossible at all once a few adjustments are made.

Performance Issues

    For the supervisor of an employee with a disability, job performance can seem like a trickier issue than it really is. As long as the company is willing to make reasonable accommodations for the disability, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission expects employers to hold disabled employees to the same performance standards as any other employee. A supervisor who avoids giving a negative performance review to a disabled employee is not behaving more ethically by doing so. The general guideline to follow is that reasonable accommodations should make it possible for the employee to meet the regular performance standards, but changing the regular performance standards is not a reasonable accommodation.

Conduct Issues

    Some disabilities can affect a person's conduct. For instance, an employee with Tourette's syndrome may shout out loud from time to time. If the disability is the cause of the employee's conduct, the company is required to make a reasonable accommodation if possible but is not required to retain an employee whose behaviors make it impossible for her to fulfill her job duties. If the disability is not the direct cause of the conduct, the employee should be held to the same standard as other employees. For example, blindness has nothing to do with aggressive behavior, so a supervisor who excused a blind employee's aggressive conduct would be acting unethically.


    The International Labour Organization has prepared a set of guidelines for the treatment of disabled employees. According to the guidelines, companies should approach this issue strategically by actively recruiting disabled employees and creating a company-wide policy to ensure equal treatment. In companies with a unionized workforce, the policy should be written in collaboration with the union representatives. The company should also develop a program to match disabled applicants to specific jobs based on their skill sets.

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