Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified job applicants because they have disabilities like autism, but widespread discrimination is a continuing issue. In Schenectady, New York, a new business, Puzzles Bakery & Café is to be commended. More than half of the bakery-café’s workforce has a diagnosis of a developmental disability, primarily autism spectrum disorder (ASD), reported the Times Leader (3.22.15).
Owner Sara Mae Hickey prides herself on having a business that is an “integrated workplace.”
Puzzles will hold its grand opening on World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
According to the Times Leader, citing Marcia Scheiner, president and founder of the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership in New York City, it is estimated that 35 percent of young adults on the spectrum attend college and 85 percent of adults on the autism spectrum are either unemployed or underemployed. This is a dismaying statistic considering that the current rates of autism spectrum disorder now stand at 1 in every 68 children.
Workplaces are supposed to accommodate employees with disabilities. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or job applicants, unless to do so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer (“undue hardship”). A “reasonable accommodation” is defined as any change to a job or workplace that permits a qualified employee with a disability to apply for a job, to perform the essential duties of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities
People with ASD may experience any of a number of limitations. For example, people with ASD may be sensitive to sensory input like harsh light and sound. As a “reasonable accommodation”, an employer could reduce auditory distractions with a noise cancelling headset or a white noise machine, or move the employee away from audible distractions. Visual distraction could be minimized by a change in lighting.
However, there are benefits to employing workers on the spectrum. For one, businesses may receive possible state tax breaks, reported the Times Leader. Adults on the autism spectrum also do not like change, and they like routine. This means, if they are productive in an environment where they’re comfortable, they will not leave, so productivity may be better and turnover lower. In addition to Puzzles, other businesses hiring adults with ASD include Wegmans and Walgreens.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws against workplace discrimination on the basis of an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and age.
In order to file a disability discrimination claim, the employee or job applicant must prove that they received unequal treatment because of their disability. A civil rights violation lawyer can help assess the situation and gather evidence to help prove the discrimination.