While searching through job openings and applications for companies that hire workers with “special needs,” “disabilities,” and “other impairments,” I came across one for a well-known company involved in a worker’s rights dispute. The company often hires individuals with special needs and was one of the first large market employers to make a point of doing so. Whether it be a marketing ploy or genuine concern for a segment of the population, help gets credit in my book.

I then went on to research the worker’s rights disputes. No over time pay for more than 40 hours of work, refusal to give benefits to full-time employees by dubbing them all part-time, refusal to give legally mandated breaks and the like. Suddenly I had a decision to make: Should I help my brother apply for a job at a company where he might be undervalued as an employee or do I pass up what might be his best chance at employment because of the company’s bad acts?

I asked a friend of mine who replied, “He’s got a real chance for a job there, and special needs workers really need to expect to have fewer opportunities- that’s just the reality of the situation.” I sighed, thanked her for the advice and promptly let Michael use his beloved oil paints to turn the application into a piece of beautiful artwork. No need to waste paper in this situation.

My friend was right in the sense that there are circumstances where workers with special needs may face limitations. For example, an individual who is confined to a wheelchair may not be able to meet the physical requirements to be a fire-fighter or an installer of heavy machinery. An individual who is allergic to latex should probably avoid blowing up balloons for a living. I stress the “may” and “should” because I do not pretend to know each situation.

All that being said, workers with special needs SHOULD NOT have to accept working for companies that mistreat employees. They SHOULD NOT accept being mistreated in the workplace. Most of all, they SHOULD NOT take jobs from companies that are in violation of federal law and known to treat workers unfairly, let alone be expected to be excited and grateful they exist. I am not stating that people should not do what they have to in order to pay bills and support themselves and their families. I am merely stating that workers with special needs deserve to complain, fight the system and refuse jobs where they are treated unfairly at the same level as anyone else. Past the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which offers certain protections and accommodation standards for workers with disabilities and special needs, all employees deserve the same chance at a happy, safe and legally compliant workplace. Special needs workers should expect that.

About

Megan Goodwin’s primary focus is on private Guardian ad Litem services in the Upstate. Ms. Goodwin also offers services to non-profit and family law clients. She has a great deal of experience working with children with special needs and youth who have been involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Social Services.