How can I approach hiring to include people with disabilities, including those with mental health problems?
Job descriptions should differentiate between essential and non-essential duties. Include any interpersonal or “emotional” competencies that the job requires, such as the ability to multi-task or strong decision-making skills under pressure. You are only permitted to ask potential employees questions about their abilities or ask them to take a test if it relates to the essential requirements of the job. You cannot make a decision not to hire someone based on anything other than the qualifications relevant to the actual occupational qualifications of the job. It’s also important to remember that you have to accommodate for all requirements, whether or not they appear in the job description.
Show your commitment to increasing the diversity of your workforce by including a statement on each job posting that you welcome applications from persons with disabilities. Besides the channels you usually use for recruitment, distribute it to disability organizations or employment services that specialize in recruiting employees with disabilities. Wherever you post it, make sure it is available in alternate formats such as email or large print. Your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch may have an employment program for people with psychiatric disabilities.
When you are evaluating the job skills of applicants, keep in mind that skills and experience developed in volunteer and community work can be as valuable as those acquired through paid work.
You should not automatically assume that gaps in a resumé indicate that an employee is not capable. People with a mental illness may have gaps in their resumé due to periods of illness or hospitalization.
You should advise all applicants when they are invited for an interview that you will provide accommodation for a disability if necessary. During the interview you should not ask a person about whether they have a disability or need accommodation unless they raise it themselves.
You might mention that your organization supports people who require accommodations to perform their work. Providing applicants with a written copy of the accommodation policy sends a very positive message that you are prepared to hire people with disabilities. You should also reassure potential employees that the health information that employees disclose to you is confidential, and that confidentiality extends to the interview process. Many people may not disclose a disability even under those circumstances, however. After a conditional offer of employment is made, you can inquire about accommodations necessary to achieve the expected outcomes of the job.
Any pre-employment testing that is done should relate specifically to the qualifications required for the essential elements of the job. This includes random drug testing. If you do use pre-employment tests that test for job skills like typing, writing, and so on, you should ensure that you offer accommodation to candidates. Accommodation is often very inexpensive. For example, employees with psychiatric disabilities may need to take a test individually rather than with a group. They may require additional time to take the test, or a quiet setting.
After making the job offer you might ask, “Is there anything you need to be able to do your job?” If the person has identified as a person with a disability prior to the offer, you may have further discussions about additional accommodations they will require. Accommodations for a person with a mental illness may include having a crisis intervention plan in case they develop problems in the workplace. Ask about signs and symptoms you should be aware of, and how to help the employee if they show those symptoms. They may also ask that a private room be available if they need to retreat for a period of time.
Introduce an employee with a mental health problem just as you would any other employee.
As the Canadian Human Rights Commission puts it, “An individual’s disability should not define him or her any more than gender, race or any other personal characteristic. Drawing attention to a new employee’s disability should be avoided, since it focuses on an aspect of that employee which — if properly accommodated — is irrelevant to his or her function in your workplace.”
- Barrier-Free Employers: Practical Guide for Employment Accommodation for People with Disabilities. The Canadian Human Rights Commission.
- Working Well: An Employer’s Guide to Hiring and Retaining People with Mental Illness. Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto, 2002.