Disabled Workers Four Times as Likely as Others to Be Laid Off During Virus Downturn

'There is concern that the longer disabled workers remain out of the workforce, the more difficult it will be to bring them back,' the commission’s report warned

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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People with disabilities at work in Rosh Haayin in central Israel.
People with disabilities at work in Rosh Haayin in central Israel.Credit: Dan Kinan
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

During the coronavirus pandemic, employers have furloughed disabled workers at a rate nearly four times that of non-disabled workers, and government aid will be required to return many of them to their jobs, the Justice Ministry’s Commission for Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities said in a new report.

The report summarizes findings from a study that the commission conducted over the past several weeks among employers of a combined total of 22,500 workers, in an effort to find ways to get disabled workers back to their jobs. According to responses to questionnaires provided by the employers, 40 percent of their disabled workers were put on unpaid leave, compared to 11 percent of their workers without disabilities.

“There is concern that the longer disabled workers remain out of the workforce, the more difficult it will be to bring them back,” the commission’s report warned. “During previous economic crises, such the high-tech crisis in 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008, it took two years for disabled workers to return to the workforce, although the economy rebounded faster than that.”

The Justice Ministry listed several challenges cited by employers who are seeking to reemploy the disabled, including the need to devote management resources to provide support to the workers on the job, economic constraints, changes in the economy that have made the workers’ jobs redundant and the need to adopt the work environment to new Health Ministry guidelines.

The employers also noted that, due to cutbacks during the pandemic, many workers are being asked do a variety of jobs simultaneously, which the employers said may be difficult for their disabled employees, some of whom were trained to do one specific task.

President Reuven Rivlin poses with a group of people with disabilities in 2017.Credit: Mark Neiman / GPO

Working from home – a shift that occurred in large segments of the economy during the pandemic – also poses challenges for disabled workers. Some employers cited the difficulty in installing home computers with accessible technology that the disabled workers need. Also mentioned was that some disabled employees are at high risk for coronavirus exposure and are therefore not being allowed to return to their places of employment. And for this reason, some have chosen not to return to work of their own accord.

“According to past experience, people with disabilities who enter the cycle of unemployment and begin receiving disability allowances have a hard time reentering the labor force,” the commission stated. “A speedy and immediate response is needed to get these workers back to full employment. Their not returning causes long-term harm and an increase in government expenditure on allowances, etc.”

“Now, with the return to routine, employers are facing numerous challenges related to accepting furloughed workers back at work. To assure that people with disabilities continue to participate in the workforce, support for this process is needed from the government,” the commission added.

Even though more research will be needed using data from the National Insurance Institute and the Employment Service, it is clear that the government will have to provide incentives to encourage the rehiring of disabled workers, the Justice Ministry said. “The monetary support to the employers has to be simple and rapidly implemented, without any unnecessary bureaucracy,” the report stated.

The proposed incentives include subsidies given directly to the workers, wage subsidies paid to the employers, grants to employers and compensation for low productivity. The commission also proposes helping employers arrange access for disabled employees who are working from home in addition to transportation and training.

The commissioner, Avremi Torem, said the coronavirus crisis has eroded the rights of the disabled and their integration into the workforce. “Returning from unpaid leave is a significant point, which has far-reaching consequences for their situation and social equality. Resources must be invested and ways must be found to assist employers to prevent the expulsion of the disabled from the workforce and their continued exclusion.”

People with disabilities – physical, sensory, cognitive or psychological – represent an estimated 20 percent of Israel’s population. A Justice Ministry analysis shows that in recent years, there has been in increase in the rate at which the disabled are employed as a result of the work of a variety of agencies in addition to legislation and changes in employers’ perceptions. Nevertheless, the rate of employment of the disabled is still low compared to the non-disabled – about 60 percent of those of working age.

“The coronavirus crisis here and around the world has affected the disabled and widened the disparities between them and people without disabilities in every realm of life,” the commission stated. “Non-employment of the disabled has personal consequences for the individual, broad social consequences and economic ramifications when it comes to government expenditures on disability allowances and in general. There must be a quick and immediate solution that brings these workers back to full employment.”

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