Turner Padget Insights

Proposed Bill May Break Down Barriers Preventing Workers with Disabilities from Getting Hired

Posted On December 10, 2019

New legislation could help individuals with disabilities in South Carolina achieve greater independence by providing them with more opportunities to join the workforce.

While 32 states have adopted policies to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities, and the federal government provides the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to employers who employ individuals with physical or mental disabilities, South Carolina doesn’t currently offer any hiring guidelines or incentives to encourage employers to recruit employees with disabilities.

A summer 2019 state report shows that when individuals with disabilities have contacted a state agency to access services, a number have been placed either in an isolated environment where they’re primarily only in contact with others with disabilities or in a workshop that provides them with minimal skills and doesn't support their full potential.

To make integrated employment the first consideration for any individual with a disability applying for or receiving services, state Rep. Neal Collins, advocacy organizations Able South Carolina and Protection & Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., and other organizations have helped create the Employment First Initiative Act.

The proposed bill would establish a commission that would recommend strategies to help state agencies, local government, and the private sector adopt a multifaceted approach to support individuals with disabilities obtaining employment.

Consisting of 17 appointed members, the South Carolina Employment First Oversight Commission would also track state agencies’ progress toward implementing aspects of the bill. The findings would be issued in an annual report to the governor and members of the South Carolina General Assembly.

Increasing Chances for Employment

Research has shown employment in integrated environments can have a highly beneficial effect on an individual’s health and well-being, providing expanded opportunities to socialize, in addition to helping to build self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of identity and personal achievement.

As of 2018, however, South Carolina had the sixth highest unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the U.S.—potentially placing thousands of workers with disabilities at risk for the negative outcomes associated with unemployment, according to the 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium. Studies have found a lack of employment can be associated with higher mortality, poorer health, and higher rates of depression.

Of the 727,702 South Carolina residents who have a disability, less than a third—32.6%—are employed. Seven out of 10 people with disabilities are unemployed.

A number of residents appear to be underemployed. An estimated 2,934 South Carolinians with disabilities have been placed in sheltered workshops where they may earn less than minimum wage due to a law passed in 1938 that allows employers to base pay on the perceived impact an employee’s disability has on the person’s capacity to perform a job.

To eliminate any misconceptions, employers need to be educated about the often-minimal cost involved in accommodations for employees with a disability, as well as the various benefits, that can result from hiring people with disabilities.

Training is necessary to improve employment opportunities. While the South Carolina High School Credential will help some students with disabilities gain employment skills, the initiative doesn’t address the needs of all individuals with disabilities.

South Carolina has to start preparing students with disabilities earlier for future work—and making sure they have an opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma. Forty-eight percent of students in individualized education programs in the state did not earn a high school diploma, according to the state Department of Education.

A Policy That Can Pay Off for the Entire Community

The suggested legislation would truly be a win-win proposition for businesses, citizens with disabilities, and other residents in the state.

In addition to the impact that training and encouragement can have on individuals with disabilities’ morale, employment can position them to achieve greater financial independence—potentially helping a number of workers with disabilities who have relied on government services transition to becoming taxpayers, which would provide additional state revenue. Businesses, too, will benefit from being able to tap into an expanded pool of qualified job applicants, many of whom possess diverse skill sets.

The Employment First Initiative Act sponsor, Rep. Neal Collins, is planning to pre-file the legislation on December 11. Simultaneously, the stakeholders are working with the governor’s office to issue an executive order to support the initiative.

The act and the executive order would both establish the South Carolina Employment First Oversight Commission—and put efforts to encourage agencies to recommend employment before other services into motion, potentially improving the lives of numerous individuals with disabilities in the state for decades to come.

For additional updates on the status of the legislation, please continue to check Turner Padget’s blog.

Ed Schafer is an attorney with Turner Padget in the firm’s Columbia, S.C., office, where he advises local governments, associations, nonprofits and industries on any problems that may need a legislative or regulatory solution. He has extensive experience in governmental relations, lobbying and association management, as well as a wide range of experience that includes representing individuals in disability rights matters, county and municipal governments, and the housing industry. He may be reached at eschafer@turnerpadget.com or at 803-227-4309.

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