It is illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. Employers may not hire, fire, discipline, demote or take other adverse actions against people because of their disabilities. Employers must also make reasonable accommodations, such as providing wheelchair access or text readers.
Unfortunately, federal agencies may be falling short of these expectations. According to a recent report, agencies have done a good job of recruiting and hiring more people with disabilities. However, they have done a poor job with advancement and retention.
A look at employees with disabilities within the federal workforce
The report wasn’t all bad, but it was certainly mixed. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provided a picture that initially appears optimistic. Yet that optimism sours as the report drills down into the details:
- Since 2014, the number of federal employees with disabilities has grown from 8.68% of the federal workforce to 9.4%.
- However, there are still too few people with disabilities in leadership positions. The EEOC found that only 10.7% of federal employees with disabilities hold leadership positions. This rate is much lower than the 16.4% of federal employees without disabilities who hold leadership roles.
- Federal agencies also struggled to retain employees with disabilities. Employees with disabilities were more likely to leave agencies, both voluntarily and involuntarily.
- Many employees chose not to report their disabilities.
- The number one complaint filed by employees with disabilities was for harassment.
This information comes even as the federal government pushes to hire and retain more employees with disabilities. Accordingly, the EEOC claimed, “More progress is needed.” One representative went even further. He stated, “There’s something wrong with this picture when so many more people with disabilities leave the government than those without.”
Agencies need to make more adjustments
The report offers one clear message: Federal agencies need to make more adjustments. It’s also unlikely these additional adjustments will involve wheelchair access or text readers. More likely, they need to involve attitudes. Agencies may also need to ask if their systems and processes are part of the problem.
Confronting such a pervasive issue takes time. It also takes hard work and people willing to do that work. Leaders within the agencies need to step up. But they’re not the only ones. The findings make it clear that people with disabilities also need to step up and call out discrimination.
Some concerns remain untouched
The EEOC report was noticeably short on some data points. It didn’t have hard data to show why employees with disabilities chose to leave more often than their peers. Nor did it have clear data behind their involuntary departures. It did, however, note the importance of better accommodations and a more welcoming workplace environment.
It’s not just the data that needs work. The report clarifies the need for federal agencies to address the gaps in their work for employees with disabilities. This means improving accessibility. But more than that, it means treating employees fairly. It means showing respect.