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How to create a workplace accepting of employees with disabilities

Published March 13, 2017 (last updated November 19, 2020) -

Every human has the right to work, and the right to choose the type of work they carry out regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and many other things, including disability. Whilst carrying out this work, everyone must be presented with an environment that is open, inclusive and accessible. By not equally considering people for positions, or discriminating against someone during the advertising and interviewing for a position or whilst in employment, you are in breach of your obligations as an employer and could be severely penalised.

There are perhaps many preconceptions associated with employing someone with a disability but the reality is that majority of individuals with a disability are still highly functioning and may contribute significantly to your overall business function.

With this in mind, let us identify how you can create a positive environment for employees with disabilities while sharing the benefits of doing so to improve not only your culture but the success of your business.

Interesting information supported by Statistics New Zealand shows that within their chosen field, relatively few disabled workers (under the age of 65) needed special modifications or equipment to carry out their job, with only 7% saying they required any, or additional modifications. Further, did you know that one in five working age New Zealanders have a disability? Quite a staggering statistic which only reinforces the need to ensure your workplace is an accepting one.

Disability defined

A disability is explained as someone who is somehow limited in their function, whether it be physically, cognitively, intellectually, mentally, developmentally or sensory, and includes personal impairment, activity limitation and participation restrictions.

A disability can be the result of an accident, illness or present since birth. The disability can also be visible or hidden, and may be permanent or just temporary.

Benefits associated with employing disabled workers.

  • Expansion of your talent pool
  • Diversifying workplace skill
  • Access to a wider range of dedicated and capable employees
  • Setting examples within your workplace community
  • Gaining greater support and respect from stakeholders, clients/customers and suppliers
  • If relevant, attract the attention of investors from a corporate and social responsibility perspective

How to ensure an accepting workplace culture.

1. Education
Educating staff and managers on not only the requirements but the benefits of disabled employees helps to create a next level of understanding, meaning when a disabled employee joins or is recognised within the workplace, they immediately feel welcomed and supported.

2. Policies and procedures
Ensure all the policies and procedures associated with your workplace, if required, include, support and/or identify with disabled employees. For example, your anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies should clearly reference a zero-tolerance policy towards any such behaviour.

3. Workplace furnishings and accessibility
Be prepared in every aspect of your workplace by making sure it complies with regulations such as wheel-chair accessibility, and determine how easily modifications could be made should a need arise.

4. Communication
Speak openly with staff, including disabled employees about the requirements of each other and any potential limitation that maybe faced by the disabled employee.

5. Wages
Currently, employers can pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage if the person is limited in the work they can carry out. When it comes to paying wages less than the minimum to disabled employees, you must be granted an exemption by the Labour Inspectorate. If you are granted this, act in good faith by determining the needs and ability of the employee first.

Finally, it is important to understand that if an employee becomes ill or has an accident that leaves them permanently or temporarily disabled, it is your obligation, where reasonably practicable, to allow that employee to return to work in the best capacity possible.

Understanding your obligations associated with disabled employees can be confusing and this is where Employsure can help. As the leading workplace relations specialist, we can guide you through your requirements involved with disabled employees and most other employment relations concerns. Contact an Employsure specialist on 0800 675 700.

About Employsure.

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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