Does HR Discriminate Against the Disabled?


February 9, 2011

I don’t share many videos, but this one is definitely worth watching.  It’s proof that discrimination against the disabled exists and that there are HR and recruiting professionals that help perpetuate it.

I originally saw this posted on FaceBook by The Conference Board.  I was floored that instead of the HR professionals intervening and explaining that it is illegal and immoral to discriminate, they took a whole different approach.  Three different pros!  Unbelievable.  The Conference Board then asked the question, “Do you think these were just a few bad apples, or might many HR people and recruiters privately offer similar advice to companies?”

I am always an optimist and my gut tells me they are a few bad apples.  I’ve always had the opportunity to work with professionals who embrace employees with many different kinds of mental and physical disabilities.  In fact, the HR and recruiting professionals I’ve worked with and that I know are the kind of people who would be appalled at the video.  What do you think?  Are they bad apples, or do you think many HR and recruiting pros would offer similar advice?  Share in the comments.


  • Trish,
    Unfortunately, I think this type of response from HR folks is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Advocacy for candidates, employees, diversity, and even compliance with the law is becoming passe while everyone scrambles for their “seat at the table”. Sad, but true.

  • Trish,
    through my work with some disability advocacy and employment groups, I’ve had the opportunity to have some pretty ‘real’ discussions with some fellow HR folks. So, therefore, the comments spewing from the mouths of the HR/recruiters in this video don’t surprise me. Alas.

  • Trish – although one cannot demonise most HR people & recruiters, this is sadly very believable.
    The problem starts with websites – 54% of UK recruitment websites that I examined recently offered no accessibility features for disabled people. See the report Recruitment Equality

    I am collaborating with the US Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Community, which has already featured the report on the US Task Force’s own website

    Let’s see if we can get a transatlantic initiative going to transform HR & recruitment!

  • There are quite a few jobs that do require full abilities. I also know for a fact that unfortunately, many people get passed over for things that aren’t even legally protected. Have you ever seen (what society would call) an ugly or over weight girl working at Hooters as a waitress? How about a person who has visibly bad dental hygiene at a dentist’s office? What about a receptionist who has BOTH no looks or personality? Nobody would go to a blind or one-handed barber, would they? Deaf sound engineers probably wouldn’t be hired under ANY circumstances.

    I do see your point; however if I would hate to HAVE to hire someone that would not fit into the position I would have open because of a disability. If I did have a position open that would, say not require anyone to talk, I would hire a deaf person if they showed drive and hustle. If they could read lips, there wouldn’t be a problem.

    • @Doug- Are you sure you’re not a HR professional in a hairdresser body? Great thought as usual. Thanks.

  • Just goes to show that “recruiters” are not really HR. (Sorry just had to take that shot.) Nobody has mentioned the required interactive process of talking about a “Reasonable accommodation.” Through the interactive process the “manager” might have discovered that there is an easy way for the worker and the boss and other employees to have communicated.

    Additionally, there is the point of size. If this is a small company, with fewer than 15 employees then the ADA does not apply to them and hence there is no legal discrimination, unless dictated by state law.

    • @Mike- Nicely played my friend! (recruiter shot) And, great point about the ADA and company size. Thanks for the comment.

  • Trish, I found that HR discriminates in many ways, through the mental models and pressures of their jobs!. If HR wants to be agents of change and champions of Diversity they need much more in the way of courage! Alas a competence many do not have!

  • Looks like you’ve hit a hot button, Trish. I can’t resist piling on. As a background screener, I find the attitude of these recruiters to be frustrating. Unfortunately, it is probably a reflection on business in general. Recruiters don’t hire — they source candidates, and they are compensated for finding “the right ones.” What they are saying, if I’m hearing correctly, is that they wouldn’t bother with someone whose disability makes them a less desirable candidate because the hiring manager wouldn’t want them.
    So, as a “service” to their client, the recruiters operate on an unwritten policy. That’s the part that bugs me. If you are not hiring based on a disability, have the integrity to write it down as policy and be willing to defend it. I’m with Doug that some disabilities prohibit people from performing certain jobs. So put it into policy. If not, c’mon! Do what’s right.

  • Dick-

    Thanks for the mention. If there ever is a day that I have a business with employees, I would outline on paper what abilities are needed, and I do believe I could defend them. However, if someone wants to prove me wrong, I would welcome the challenge. After all- my success is based upon insurmountable challenges I have conquered.

    But I do also think that most recruiters are probably savvy enough to make it virtually impossible to prove that one was discriminated based on their disability. After all- you could just say on paper that the applicant did not pass muster with certain “personality traits”. Most recruiters would not be so flagrant like the fictional supervisor on the 20/20 segment.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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