At the close of the 2023 Minnesota Legislative Session, legislators passed an economic development bill (SF 3035 / HF 3028) that included provisions establishing the Minnesota Employer Reasonable Accommodation Fund (ERAF). The ERAF, housed in the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development (DEED), provides grants to small businesses and non-profit organizations to cover the cost of reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities.
In an inclusive society, the government should do more than pass legislation if it wants to champion the rights of employees with disabilities. Legal frameworks like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) set the stage for inclusion, but it is important for governments to help people understand and make use of their rights. Legislation requiring reasonable accommodations for employees is a move in the right direction. However, it often falls short of its goal when not coupled with meaningful support for employers and employees alike.
Most reasonable accommodation legislation is an unfunded mandate. This means employers are responsible for the cost of complying with the legislation. While many large employers have the money to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees, many small businesses and non-profit organizations may struggle to cover these costs.
Financial support, in the form of tax incentives or grants, can encourage small businesses to provide reasonable accommodations without impacting their bottom line. By sharing the costs, the government fosters an inclusive environment and shows a commitment to social equity. The Minnesota Employer Reasonable Accommodation Fund helps achieve these goals.
Understanding your rights is the first step towards seeing them realized in your day-to-day experience. Educational initiatives can take various forms, from comprehensive workshops and online resources to partnerships with advocacy groups specializing in disability rights.
These initiatives should target employers and employees alike. By creating a well-informed workforce, the government helps promote a culture where inclusivity is not just a legal obligation but a shared value. The Minnesota Legislature should help state agencies like DEED and the Minnesota Council on Disability establish teams to assist and support employees requesting reasonable accommodations.
Empowerment means the ability to fight for your rights. Many employees with disabilities face challenges navigating the legal landscape. Government can provide advocacy services to support employees as they navigate this landscape.
Government-sponsored advocacy services can offer:
- Legal guidance
- Assistance requesting accommodations
- Assistance filing complaints
- Representation in legal proceedings
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights, for example, can assist an employee file a complaint in court or notify an employer of any legal violations. Of course, employers would prefer to avoid legal proceedings altogether – another reason ERAF is good policy.
Turning an Ideal into Reality
While legislation provides a crucial foundation for change, the government should do more to create an inclusive workplace. It should provide financial support, educational initiatives, and advocacy services that empower employees with disabilities to understand, assert, and fight for their rights. By actively supporting both employers and employees, the government can become a catalyst for comprehensive change. Minnesota’s vision of an inclusive workplace doesn’t have to be just a lofty ideal but a tangible reality for every business, large or small.