Federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against disabled job applicants. This has not, however, stopped some companies from overlooking qualified disabled candidates and hiring less qualified workers instead, as researchers at Rutgers University and Syracuse University recently discovered.
In fact, these researchers developed thousands of fake cover letters, using them to apply to more than 6,000 accounting positions, in an effort to find out just how and when employers may be discriminating against disabled job applicants.
Of these faux cover letters:
- 33% were for fake applicants who disclosed a spinal cord injury (a physical disability)
- 33% were for fake applicants who disclosed having Asperger's Syndrome (a mental disability)
- 33% disclosed no disability whatsoever.
For each of these groups of letters, researchers then devised:
- One set of letters for inexperienced applicants who had recently graduated from college
- Another set of letters for highly qualified applicants who had experience that matched the position.
Based on this framework, these researchers predicted that better qualifications and more experience would result in less discrimination against disabled job applicants.
The Nature of Disability Discrimination in the Hiring Process: What Researchers Discovered
In analyzing the responses from employers, here's what researchers found:
- The type of disability a candidate had did not seem to matter as much as the fact that the applicant was disabled.
- Employers were about twice as likely to discriminate against disabled job applicants who had experience (when compared to disabled job applicants with little to no experience).
- The companies that were most likely to exhibit these discriminatory practices in the hiring process were those that were not covered by federal discrimination laws and/or that do not work on government contracts.
Observing these findings, researchers noted in the conclusion to their study that:
The overall pattern of findings is consistent with the idea that disability discrimination continues to impede employment prospects of people with disabilities, and more attention needs to be paid to employer behavior and the demand side of the labor market for people with disabilities.
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