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Hiring 101 Part 9 – Interviewing People with Disabilities

In this video, HR Daily Advisor Editor Stephen Bruce talks about the special rules for interviewing people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act has spelled out rather strict guidelines for interviews, which you should follow carefully.

SB: This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor. This is the ninth video in our Hiring 101 series. It deals with the special rules for interviewing people with disabilities.. The Americans with Disabilities Act has spelled out rather strict guidelines for interviews, which you should follow carefully.

These disability guidelines are somewhat obtuse and confusing. Nevertheless, interviewers must be familiar with them—there is a lot of litigation potential from failure to adhere to these rules. If you are confused, seek out the advice of your HR manager before you interview.

First, note that candidates with disabilities are entitled accommodation for the evaluation process itself, so it may be necessary to provide written materials in accessible formats, such as large print, braille, or audiotape, to adjust or modify application policies and procedures.

During the interview, you may ask whether a candidate can perform the essential functions of the position with or without accommodation. However, you may not ask whether the candidate has a disability or what the disability is.

If you reasonably believe a person has a need for accommodation because of an obvious disability (for example, is in a wheel chair, or has an obvious vision problem), OR you reasonably believe that accommodation would be required by a disability an applicant has voluntarily disclosed to you, OR if the candidate asks for accommodation, THEN you may ask whether the person needs reasonable accommodation AND what type of reasonable accommodation is needed to perform the job.

If the applicant says he or she will need accommodation, you may then ask questions about the type of accommodation needed. For example, for a person with a vision disability who requests software to make screen images bigger, you could inquire about the availability of the software and its compatibility with your system software. You still may not directly inquire about the nature of the disability.

As another example, if an applicant reveals to you that he or she needs an accommodation of periodic breaks to take medication, you may ask about the length and frequency of the breaks, but not about the underlying disease that requires the medication.

If the applicant, when asked whether an accommodation is needed, responds no, you may not ask further about accommodation.

You may, however, ask the applicant to demonstrate or tell how he or she would perform the tasks of the position, if you ask all applicants to perform the same demonstration.

Regarding sickness and attendance, you may not inquire how many days a person missed due to illness, because this may tend to elicit information about a disability.

However, since there may be many reasons for not meeting attendance requirements, you may ask, after providing an applicant with your attendance requirements, whether he or she can meet the requirements. In addition, you may ask about the applicant’s attendance record, that is, you may ask, “How many days were you absent?”

You also may ask questions designed to detect whether an applicant abused leave. For example, you may ask, “How many Mondays or Fridays were you absent last year for any reason except approved vacation leave?”

Again, dealing with disabilities in the interview is a difficult challenge; talk to your HR department if you have any concerns about what you should and should not do.

For disabilities, reasonable accommodation, and all your HR challenges, we recommend HR.BLR.com. This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor.