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Know Your Rights: Teen Employees with Disabilities

Last updated October 31, 2023

Getting your first job can be an intimidating experience for any teen. It can feel even more daunting if you are living with a disability. If you’re a teen with a disability, you most likely already know about some of your rights in a school setting (in high school or in college) - but once you’re out of the classroom and in a job setting, it’s just as important to know your rights as an employee. Just like in school, you have legal rights and protections at work. Here are some things you should know about working as a student with a disability.

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A man sits at a desk holding a book. In front of him sits an open laptop. He is smiling - Know Your Rights: Teen Employees with Disabilities

Disability rights are civil rights!

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act are federal laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of their disability. These laws require that employees with disabilities are provided with reasonable accommodations at work. Your city and state may also have additional laws and protections for employees with disabilities.

Self-advocacy and disclosing a disability

As you enter the workforce, you are your best advocate! When you apply for jobs, employers will never be allowed to ask you about any disability you may have, because that can potentially be used to discriminate against you. This is also true once you start a job; meaning that it’s up to you to disclose any information about your disability to your employer - regardless of the type of disability you have. An employer is only required to provide work-related accommodations if you disclose your disability to the appropriate individuals, so be sure to do this ASAP when starting a job.

There is no "right" time or place to disclose your disability. You could talk to a hiring manager during your interview process, or it can be something you tell your manager once you start the job. Here are some recommendations when disclosing your disability:

  • Ask for confidentiality. You are in charge of your personal information, so make it clear who you want to know.
  • Give some basic information about your disability and why you want to tell them about it, including the strengths that come with it!
  • Suggest practical job accommodations that will help you get the job done.
  • Find someone you trust and practice disclosing your disability with them first!

Reasonable accommodations

To support employees with disabilities, employers must provide “reasonable accommodations.” This means that they need to work with you to ensure that you can perform the duties of your job just like any other employee. “Reasonable” means that these accommodations will likely cost very little for the employer and are things that won’t disrupt the everyday functions of the workplace. Accommodations are going to be very individualized based on your disability, the job duties, and what has worked for you in the past. They will also vary if you need physical assistance, or assistance for mental health or attention differences. Some examples of reasonable accommodations are:

  • Allowing for a quiet workspace or noise-canceling headphones
  • Ensuring accessible entrances for wheelchairs or other mobility devices
  • Having a clear break schedule
  • Allowing assistive devices such as timers, calendars, and apps
  • Inclusive ways of giving feedback such as verbal, written, and auditory
  • Allowing service animals at the workplace

Ensuring your needs are met

As a self-advocate, there may be times when you need to hold your employer accountable if your needs are not being met or you feel your rights are at risk. This can be an intimidating situation, but the ADA and other government policies require companies to have complaint processes to ensure your rights are upheld.

The best first step is always to reiterate your needs and any agreed upon accommodations with your immediate manager. New people get hired and miscommunications happen, so solving issues collaboratively is the best place to start. If this doesn’t solve the issue, ask your employer or someone in the Human Resources department for help with their formal “grievance process.” States require employers who hire teens with disabilities to have a process to solve any ADA issues.

In addition to this, it’s important to talk to the people you trust about what’s going on at work. They can help you file complaints, troubleshoot any issues that may come up, and support you along every step of the way!

All young employees deserve an equitable and fair work environment! If you have any questions about accessing accommodations or just need some extra support or encouragement, we’re here to help! Text #Jobs to 33-55-77 to speak with one of our jobs advisors.

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