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Don’t single out disabled applicants for special treatment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If you hire emotionally disabled employees, be sure to integrate them into your regular staff meetings and events. Avoid treating them as a separate (even if equal) component of your work force.

Paternalism, even if well-intentioned, has no place at work. Lumping disabled employees together can create the appearance that you’re treating them differently, which can lead to discrimination lawsuits.

Recent case: In 1969, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) hired Richard Wishkin, who’s mentally disabled, as part of a program to employ people with disabilities. He worked as a mail handler for more than 30 years with no problems.

But when talk began surfacing about automating the mail-sorting process, managers began holding “circle meetings” for disabled employees. The managers said that USPS might eliminate these employees’ jobs and urged them to consider taking disability retirements. Soon afterward, Wishkin and others had to undergo fitness-for-duty exams and were again urged to retire on disability.

Wishkin declined and sued, alleging disability discrimination. The trial court dismissed his case, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated his lawsuit. It reasoned that Wishkin can use, as evidence of disability discrimination, that the USPS singled out the disabled for special meetings and urged their retirement. It ordered a trial. (Wishkin v. Potter, No. 05-4743, 3rd Cir., 2007)

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