Task Force Report: Strategies for Attracting and Retaining State Employees with Disabilities
The Minnesota Council on Disability is leading efforts to increase disability representation in the Minnesota state government workforce. We request that the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities make these efforts a Pillar 2 priority in the 2022 Legislative Session. We believe that more disability representation in our state enterprise system, especially in leadership positions, will lead to better decisions around state disability services and policies.
SF1570/HF 2017 would codify the recommendations made by the Advisory Task Force on State Employment & Retention of Employees with Disabilities by revising Minnesota Statutes Chapter 43A, which governs the hiring and retention of employees. These bills would demonstrate the State of Minnesota’s commitment to the hiring, retention, and advancement of people with disabilities by:
- modernizing outdated and potentially discriminatory language,
- creating more clarity & consistency on disability employment policy,
- training and educating hiring managers,
- providing a support structure for employees with disabilities, and
- adding capacity for essential equity work.
- codifies Dayton Executive Order 14-14 & Gov Walz Executive Order 19-15 to improve the implementation of the Connect 700 program,
- provides direction to MMB regarding disability policies and employment,
- codifies and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of ADA coordinators in state agencies, and
- establishes a data collection and reporting structure on the advancement of employees with disabilities.
Minnesotans often face difficult or even insurmountable barriers in finding and maintaining employment. The state of Minnesota is no exception. The state does not have adequate disability representation in its workforce.
Far too often, policies that significantly impact Minnesotans with disabilities are decided by a small group of non-disabled policymakers. Minnesotans with disabilities need their voices heard and a seat at the state governing table.
These are “Nothing About Us Without Us” bills which would require more consultation with people with disabilities and those who are disability employment experts. Increasing disability employment and retention among the state government workforce creates a pipeline of future leaders and policymakers in our state enterprise system. The disability community in our state will be better off when Minnesotans with disabilities make decisions in our cabinet agencies.
In 2014 employees with disabilities only represented 3% of the state government workforce, despite 20% of Minnesotans having a disability. Governor Mark Dayton issued Executive Order 14-14 to infuse the state Connect 700 affirmative action program for people with disabilities with more resources, accessibility, and enforcement authority. It also gave oversight powers to the Disability Agency Form.
The Connect 700 program allows people with disabilities to bypass the traditional competitive hiring process and have an informal interview to determine if they meet the minimum qualifications for the job. If the applicant meets these criteria, they undergo a 700-hour paid trial period to determine if they can perform the position’s duties with reasonable work accommodations. If the employee can perform the position’s essential responsibilities within those 700 hours, they are certified to assume the position permanently.
By 2019 disability representation among the state government’s workforce rose from 3% to 7%. However, limited data on disabilities makes it unclear how many of those employees were new hires or the existing workforce aging into disability status. More questions arose about the program’s success when an internal study revealed that more than half of employees with disabilities resign from their positions within the first year. Many of those employees cited hostile work environments, discrimination, and inadequate workplace accommodations.
In 2019 Governor Tim Walz issued executive order 19-15, which established a goal to raise disability representation in the state’s workforce from 7% to 10%. The order also required all state agencies to create plans to hire more people with disabilities.
Provisions in the 2019 State Government Omnibus bill created the State Employment & Retention of Employees with Disabilities (MNSERED) Task Force, consisting of different disability agencies, councils, and commissions. The MNSERED Task Force was tasked with investigating state employment for people with disabilities and providing recommendations in a report to the State Legislature by February 2021. The Minnesota Office of Management and Budget also contracted an internal investigation led by the Wilder Foundation.
In February 2021, the MNSERED Task Force and the Wilder Foundation released their findings. Minnesota State employees with disabilities reported:
- hostile work environments,
- inexperienced or discriminatory hiring managers, and
- long wait times to receive workplace accommodations.
They also reported feeling unsupported or isolated among their work colleagues.
Both the MNSERED Task Force and Wilder Foundation provided a series of recommendations to address these issues. We have taken these recommendations and turned them into bills HF 2017 and SF 1570.
Creating an equitable, accessible, and safe society
Our government works best for us when it looks like us.
The Minnesota State Government is the largest and most influential employer in the state, providing billions of dollars in services and programs for the disability community. If the state government is not adequately represented by people with disabilities, especially in decision-making roles, then policies that impact disability communities are left to others. That is, non-disabled Minnesotans who cannot represent the disability experience adequately. Disability issues are then given lower priorities, less funding for services and support, and reduced oversight to root out ableist and systemic barriers.
Promoting diversity, inclusion, and equity
This proposal is centered around expanding, strengthening, and codifying an affirmative action program that increases diversity, inclusion, and equity in our state government workforce. While the Connect 700 program is a disability affirmative action program, it can also provide more employment opportunities for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Minnesotans with disabilities.
The program allows prospective employees to bypass the competitive hiring process, which often favors white or non-disabled people. It does not root out ableism or racism from the hiring process entirely. Still, when a prospective employee has the minimum qualifications and has demonstrated competency in the role, it makes a stronger case for that employee. Not to mention, if an agency has already spent three months training and investing in an employee, it is less likely to search for a new candidate.
The proposal also standardizes the Connect 700 program and the workplace accommodation process across all state agencies, providing consistency and equal opportunity in various job sectors.
Focus on community: improving and protecting essential supports and services across systems
When the essential supports and services that Minnesotans with disabilities rely on are also being staffed and facilitated by people with disabilities, the system will be more empathetic and reflect the experiences of that community. This proposal embodies the mantra, “Nothing about us, without us.” Our government works best for us when it looks like us.
Supporting individual empowerment and choice
Employment is not the only means to empowerment and choice. But it is a viable pathway to that goal. Minnesotans with disabilities employed by the state can create a personal safety net that keeps them out of poverty. They can enjoy unionized benefits, health insurance, and retirement benefits. Working for the state can provide a stable career with many opportunities for professional growth. Employing more Minnesotans with disabilities in all levels of state government creates a pipeline for employees with disabilities to leadership, policy-, or decision-making roles that, ultimately, can improve the entire disability community.
The bulk of this proposal already exists in executive orders and original founding statutes. State agencies already have the mandate to fund it with existing appropriations.
One of the main components of the proposal is to codify executive orders into state statute. The standardization and training of ADA coordinators should already exist, but some state agencies have not hired or implemented them yet. We could request funding for positions at MCD or other agencies to provide more independent oversight and help increase and expand the role of ADA coordinators.
The proposal also establishes a data reporting and collecting structure to provide more oversight and accountability to state agencies. The proposal does not need a fiscal note to be successful.
- 2021 HF2017 Reyer – State Employment & Retention of Employees with Disabilities Bill
- Representative Reyer (DFL, 51B Eagan) introduces HF2017 into the House of Representatives, which takes recommendations from the Task Force to codify into state statute
- 2021 SF1570 Westrom – State Employment & Retention of Employees with Disabilities Bill
- Senator Westrom (R, 12 Elbow Lake) introduces SF1570 into the Senate, which takes recommendations from the Task Force to codify into state statute