The Small Business at Work Toolkit

Helping small businesses welcome employees with disabilities
Two businesspeople chatting beside an open laptop in an office.


Recruiting and hiring people with disabilities

Scenario 1: Sally and the school picnic

A woman talks on the phone while looking concernedCreative Products is a custom manufacturing business that employs 237 people. Sally is the only full-time HR person in the company. She is aware of the ADA and has taken steps to make sure the company is compliant. Finding workers is an ongoing and time-consuming struggle for the business, so Creative Products decided a year ago to outsource most of their recruiting and hiring functions.

Recently, while attending a school picnic, Sally found out from an acquaintance that several veterans who had just returned from service overseas had applied for jobs at Creative Products, but were rejected early in the application process. The next morning Sally talked to the recruiting firm and discovered why they had declined these applications. The recruiter “did some sleuthing” and found that two of these veteran applicants were getting treatment for post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSI) and the third had a mild traumatic brain injury.

Sally was perplexed and angry. She had met one of the applicants at another community event, and he seemed like someone who would be a good hire. She’s called a meeting with company leadership to determine next steps.

Think about it. What needs to happen?

The actions of the recruiting firm are hurting Creative Products in several ways.

  • A shortage of qualified workers is the main challenge to the success of their business. They can’t afford to turn away workers who, with or without accommodations, are likely to be productive employees.
  • This recruiting firm has violated not only the ADA, but also other laws covering the employment rights of veterans. Creative Products might be held liable for these violations.
  • Creative Products risks losing the trust of their local community. Word gets out about what this company does and doesn’t stand for—it gets out to local community members, to customers, and to the potential applicant pool.

Sally needs to inform leadership that the recruiting company they contract with is damaging their business. Then, she needs to recommend that Creative Products either find another recruitment partner or hire a recruiting specialist into the company. Finally, Sally needs to pay more attention to selecting, communicating with, and monitoring business partnerships.

The takeaway

When misperceptions about talent (who has it, who doesn’t) drive recruitment, the talent pipeline available for a business narrows. Anyone who is involved with recruiting and hiring needs to understand both the law and the short- and long-term needs of the company.

Scenario 2: The frazzled managers

Two seated men have a discussion at a coffee shopCyberX is a rapidly growing small business that buys, refurbishes, and re-sells used computer equipment to other businesses. In the past year, they added 85 new employees to their payroll and now have almost 300 employees. The 15 team leaders at CyberX are scrambling to keep up with demand, both from the rapidly expanding customer base and from their own employees. Recruiting and hiring is an ongoing challenge for the company.

CyberX has two HR managers who, in addition to their other tasks, do recruiting and intake of job applications. After a quick background check, these applications are forwarded to team leaders who, in what ever time they can spare, choose applicants for interviews. Then, if the manager likes the person, they are given a job offer on the spot. 

Over the past 6 months, turnover has increased. So, the company owner decided to read some reviews of the company’s workplace on a website for job seekers. And he didn’t like what he read. Comments about CyberX were nearly all negative and described a frenetic, “macho” work environment, where anyone who didn’t fit the mold was in the “out” group. The next day, he asked each team leader how they made hiring decisions. He heard pretty much the same thing from each of them—they hired “from their gut” and “just knew right away” which applicants would fit. But when the company owner looked around, he knew this meant that they were hiring people who were most like themselves. He wondered whether this had anything to do with their turnover problem.

Think about it. What needs to happen?

It’s part of human nature to like people who are most like us. When CyberX managers hire on the fly, with little thought or direction, quick (and often unfounded) assumptions about people who are different can run rampant. And this, in turn, lays the groundwork for a work environment that excludes diverse voices. Without clear direction from leadership, CyberX team leaders will continue to reject applicants who don’t fit the mold. Also, CyberX risks legal hot water as managers are not fully aware of what they can ask applicants during hiring.

Several things need to happen.

  • CyberX leaders need to communicate the value of having an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities and others.
  • Leadership needs to provide a clear path for how this will happen.
  • This vision needs to be translated into recruiting and hiring practices to ensure a more diverse and disability-inclusive pipeline of applicants.
  • Recruiting practices need to be changed by broadening recruiting channels.
  • Hiring managers need to have guidelines, tools, and expectations in place to change how they hire.
The takeaway

Applicants with disabilities are excluded when companies lack a clear and purposeful strategy around inclusion. Over-worked managers cannot be expected to make thoughtful hiring decisions without expectations and guidance.

The scenarios, including all names, characters, and incidents portrayed on this page are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, or products is intended or should be inferred.