Workplace Ethics and the Disabled


Ethical Treatment of the Disabled in the Workplace

Jean McBride

August 05, 2008


Ethical treatment of disabled individuals is still an issue even as we are in the new millennium. Sad to say, disabled individuals are employed under their skill levels and incur discrimination daily from employers and fellow employees. The trend is often under reported for fear of reprisals. The incidents continue, thus making the work place one of the most challenging experiences of a disabled individual’s life. Ethical treatment of disabled employees by all involved could bring about sweeping change for disabled individuals in the work arena.

Ethical Treatment of the Disabled in the Work Place

The Issues

Disabled individuals want a secular life. A job with the hopes of being a productive member of society is the goal of so many disabled individuals. The job market in most states is very hard to get into if one is whole, but for the disabled it is often a huge hurdle. I worked as a disability advocate for many years in the south before coming to the northeast, yet I still remain in contact with vast numbers of disabled people and I hear their struggles daily.


Erin, age 33, has mental disabilities that range in the relatively sever range. When properly medicated he is functional and loves to work. He finds it very hard to find work though due to the issue he has.

Erin: “I often am told we are not hiring even though they just put the sign up. When I get a job important information is kept back from me that I need to know to do my job well. I miss staff meetings as they are not posted and generally, I am not told. Various issues arise and then I find I must leave, it is a relentless cycle. I try to work closely with management so I remedy these issues, only to find I am misunderstood by the other staff, which causes issues. I long to be productive it is virtually impossible.”

Howard, age 26, is profoundly deaf and mute. He is frustrated that he is only hired for janitorial jobs.

Howard signs: “I can work stock as I am strong. I can work machinery; the noise does not affect me. I have endless energy and could teach sign (American Sign Language and Spanish Sign Language) for I am great with children. I am able to work with deaf adults and teach them to sign. I can do graphic design. I could drive a delivery truck. The only jobs I can find is janitorial and walking dogs. I am sick of it; let the hearing clean their own feces.”

Kristen, age 27, is a nursery worker and floral design artist. She is deaf and uses sign and speech.

Kristen: “I have worked with florals and the nursery many years. A few years back I had to make a decision as I was under paid for the work I was doing seven dollars an hour was what I was getting, while others where I worked were gradually making more and hiring in at more money than I was making steady. I had worked there many years. The employer said I was deaf and therefore not as capable with the customers as others were even though I read lips, had my hearing aids in, and seldom made a mistake when working with customers. I made three mistakes in ten years. I promptly quit and found work where the money was more suited. They use me more in the nursery and in the order department than with walk in customers. I often help the walk-ins on my own just to show them I am capable. I still have the discrimination, but at a lower level.”

The deafness site on BellaOnline has Felicity Bleckly as an editor. She echoes the above remarks and adds credibility to their dilemma. “People are left out due to their limitations even if they have completed the major work on a client’s project. They are left uninvited to client meetings or luncheons, sometimes even office briefings or staff meetings are closed to them. The deaf (or otherwise disabled) feel left out, unappreciated and this is a form of bullying – a subtle form of discrimination. It is hurtful.” (Bleckly, 2008)

Returning to work after a severe illness often is the beginning of discrimination sometimes for an employee. The individual, who has battled illness, is now disabled, and needs an accommodation. The company remedy is to lay off or downsize, as the company does not desire to continue the realm of care for the employee. The healthcare package and various other benefits are more costly since the employee has become ill/disabled. All cost effective for the company, they must think of the healthy workers and stay in business, yet it is discriminatory towards the disabled individual as they have often lost a lifetime of work and benefits. Steve Cahn, a disability discrimination lawyer in New Jersey says this practice is all too familiar. “Often employers will let a disabled employee go due to their production level not being the same as before the illness, or perhaps sick time is taken more frequently as is the case with cancer survivors who has medication that often makes them ill.” (Networks, 2008)

Issues even more serious remain; this is the status quo, as stereotyping of mental and physical disabilities cause divisions in the workplace. A few employees feel it is beneath them to work with the handicapped as if it downgrades their own work experience and profile. We have entered a new millennium; old ideas still rein true, sadly.

Ethics for All

Ethical fairness in the workplace is no new issue. Everyone wants to be treated well in their day today life, be it at home, errand hopping, or at the workplace. Mentally and physically disabled individuals desire the same treatment – to be treated well, commended and compensated for the work they accomplish. The disabled also desire job stability, just the same as anyone else. It begins with each person, as well as the company, to set out policy and common courtesy, thus setting the example for all involved.

Business ethics is far beyond everyone being kind with each other. Basic business ethics has improved our society. The laws have changed so that child labor is no longer tolerated here in the states. Discrimination on certain grounds is frowned upon and in most cases illegal. Pay for overtime and some benefits are expectable for hazardous jobs. The benefits mention could be attributed to union movements, but they also are ethical issues. The ethical issues were established then the unions and laws were passed to aid the equality of usage across the commercial divide. People at one time could be terminated for personality issues, racial color, political and religious preferences. (This still occurs in some states here in America that are commonwealth states, to this day. I have personally seen it and there is no recourse. Georgia and Kentucky are examples of commonwealth states with commonwealth laws.) Society is much better for the federal laws that have been enacted to protect the workers whether they are disabled or not. Federal courts supersede the state courts if one has the money or can find an attorney to fight the case.

Adhering to ethical standards in the business world helps to build creativity, continuity, community, and high production. Ethical behavior among the employees builds when no one feels left out as the routine of the day follows into the week. Staff is notified weekly of changes, meetings, postings, new employees and job duties. The dialog is open and continuous helping bonding patterns form among the workers as they see their own values present in the companies they serve. A sense of family or unity occurs and productivity increases.

Reality of both the positive and negative is hard to face from time to time. Employees expand their knowledge as they spend time in a field. The confidence one needs to succeed often comes as experience accrues through the years. Behaving in an ethical manor over a long period of time has been linked to good emotional health and less stress, thus more self confidence and a better power to succeed in good or bad times. (Bennet, 1991, p. B1) The idea I am trying to convey is that bad behavior makes one rather miserable inside. One may feel they take their aggressions out on someone, yet generally they are not the only miserable person.

Ethical management tools such as diversity programs that help individuals resolve their issues with each other that occur in the workplace. Disabled individuals may find these programs infinitely useful as they work through their employment to help everyone’s understanding levels increase. Values become more aligned as understanding progresses. The continuity it takes to maintain a consistently accurate product with employees from diverse backgrounds as well as a variety of abilities or inabilities takes strategic planning which also is an ethical management tool. Human resources and mediators in the workplace aid in gaining resolution of issues so the ethical integrity of the workplace is kept intact.

Strength forward in the business world helps convey a positive image to the workers and community. Ethical coherence and balance in the workplace supports the community and the sets the example for the future. Disabled individuals working in companies that should have standards in place, yet continue to be discriminated against need to step forward and advocate. Advocacy takes time and awareness.

Promoting Ethical Education

Ethical behavior does not come readily. People must become educated.  Reading through the textbook provided for this course, several authors with various ethical theories were presented for our enrichment. The Kantian way of reasoning ethical issues is as simple as the universal laws of space, time, and gravity. He was then compared to men such as Hume’ who felt that our affections or emotions should weigh some balance of our ethical decisions.(Waller, 2008, p. 10-44)  Our feelings can be objective, subjective or intuitive in nature and can often cause dilemmas in our views as to what is appropriate at what time. (Waller, p. 39-41)

The various forms of ethics discussed Utilitarian, Pragmatist, Care, Social Contract, and the list goes on all point to one main idea – how to have respect and treat each other in a respectful manner. The human race has issues. Like the flowers that grow we are all different. It is the variety of life and it would be a horridly boring world without the variety. Ethical issues will come and go as long as we walk the ground and breathe the air. Treating people with dignity and respect is a must wherever we are whatever we do. I focused on disabled workers in this paper for it seems easiest to take the dignity from one unable to fight back. When one is targeted due to a disability, especially in a workplace, where one is just trying to survive and create a dignity for his own, it is such a cowardly thing. Good ethical behavior is not hard to manifest, it promotes so much character, and helps heal so many wounds. It is a valuable way to use our freewill.


Bennet,  (1991, 4/11,1991). Unethical Behavior, Stress Appear Linked. Wall Street Journal, p. B1.

Bleckly, F. (2008, August 2008). Deaf Discrimination at Work. Message posted to, archived at

Networks, V. (2008, July 2008). Disability Discrimination in the Workplace is Explained. VeohTV. Retrieved from

Waller, B. N. (2008). Consider Ethics (Second Edition ed.). : Pearson Longman Education.



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