How to handle disabled applicants who bring a ‘Job coach’ to the interview

In many states, vocational programs pair disabled residents with “job coaches,” who help them find appropriate work and adapt to those jobs. Coaches sometimes accompany disabled applicants to job interviews to help explain the types of jobs their clients can perform, plus suggest reasonable accommodations.

Since the ADA also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations during the hiring process, make sure job coaches are welcome in your interviews. Be prepared with a list of the essential functions of the open job, so the coach can compare them with the client’s abilities or suggest accommodations. Don’t hesitate to point out potential problems, but be open to suggestions.

Remember, your conduct at the interview may be used later if the job coach thinks your organization is discriminating against the disabled.

Recent case: Cynthia Barnett, who has Downs Syndrome, worked with a job coach to help her apply for a supermarket job.

The store trained all its employees to perform at every position, from stock clerk to cashier, and required everyone to be able to answer customer questions.

Because Barnett’s language and math skills were poor, the manager conducting the interview rudely told the coach there wasn’t any way she could perform the job. He added that co-workers would make fun of Barnett.

The job coach filed a complaint with the EEOC, which sued on Barnett’s behalf. The case eventually was dismissed because the court decided that no accommodation could have allowed Barnett to perform the varied tasks the job required. But that was only after the supermarket spent thousands defending the lawsuit. (EEOC v. Health Foods Associates, No. CIV-05-1058, WD OK, 2006)

Final tip: Often, rudeness and inconsideration can lead to needless litigation. Train everyone in courtesy and discretion.