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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Employers in New York and around the country may be aware that the U.S. Department of Labor has designated October National Disability Employment Awareness Month. While allegations of sexual or racial harassment tend to receive the lion's share of the headlines dealing with workplace discrimination, data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals that about 30 percent of the workplace discrimination claims received by the agency in 2015 were filed by or on behalf of disabled workers.

The rights of disabled workers are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the EEOC filed a lawsuit seeking damages of $8.6 million from Lowe's Home Improvement after the retailer fired thousands of disabled workers in violation of the 1990 law. That litigation was settled in May, but research indicates that disabled workers face high levels of discrimination before they even enter the workforce. While 65 percent of able-bodied Americans were employed in 2015, less than 18 percent of those with a disability were able to secure gainful employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The EEOC reports that disability claims have been increasing steadily for more than a decade, and some experts feel that this reflects a willingness among disabled workers to come forward when faced with discrimination that has been absent in the past. Others say that the employment figures may be misleading because employers are only required to report that workers are disabled when their disabilities are job-related.

The statistics indicate that disabled workers can have great difficulty finding a job, and this could explain why some disabled individuals are still reluctant to take action when they are treated unfairly at work. Experienced employment law attorneys may understand this hesitation, and they could seek to calm these anxieties by explaining the severe sanctions that employers could face for retaliating against an employee who is protected by federal law.

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