Inclusivity in the workplace is not only essential for attracting new generations but it is also critical to ensure companies are complying with federal labor laws. Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are responsible for enforcing and making it unlawful to discriminate against employees with disabilities.
Unfortunately, there have been multiple lawsuits filed over the years against trucking companies violating these laws by failing to make reasonable accommodations for truckers with disabilities. In many cases, companies will try to argue that allowing a truck driver with a disability interferes with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMSCRs).
There are certainly some disabilities that may restrict drivers from safely performing their duties. However, with advancements in technology, there are many truck upgrades that can be made to accommodate a wide range of disabilities. And there is no reason why a truck driver can’t still perform their job in accordance with FMCSA regulations if these reasonable accommodations are made.
A Government Accountability Association (GAO) analysis of data from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) found that around 563,000 truck drivers with CDLs have a disability. This represents about 4% of all commercial driver’s licenses in the DOT database.
While having a disability may seem contradictory to operating a large commercial vehicle in compliance with federal safety regulations, the GAO states that truck drivers can still meet the requirements to safely operate a commercial vehicle and hold a CDL as long as they undergo careful medical evaluations and reasonable accommodations can be made.
Currently, the only conditions that disqualify a person from driving with disabilities include:
- Cardiovascular disease;
- Certain respiratory diseases;
- Blindness in one eye.
This leaves room for a wide range of other disabilities that should still be acceptable in the trucking industry, as long as the disabled person’s medical evaluation determines they can still safely operate a vehicle with accommodations.
For example, not all visual impairments that count as a disability would necessarily restrict a person from being able to safely operate a commercial vehicle. There are varying levels of visual impairment from mild to severe, and the SSA defines blindness as having a visual acuity of 20/200 or worse, which falls under severe visual impairment. This means that a driver could have a mild visual impairment and still safely operate a vehicle with the right accommodations.
Night blindness, for instance, is a form of visual impairment, but it is not a disability that should restrict a driver from having a CDL, as this is something for which reasonable accommodations can be made. In fact, there are many challenges that come with driving at night, even for someone who doesn’t have a visual impairment, such as general limited visibility and even fatigue.
The FMCSA already has Hours of Service regulations that determine when or how long a truck driver can operate their vehicle. Thus, it is reasonable to expect a trucking company to be able to make accommodations for certain visual impairments, such as limiting a driver’s hours of operation to daytime and avoiding giving them overnight shifts.
The specific accommodations that can be made for truckers with disabilities will again depend on their specific needs based on a skill performance evaluation from a medical expert. After careful evaluation, a doctor may determine that a person with a disability can still operate a vehicle safely, so long as the appropriate accommodations are made.
For example, a truck driver who is missing a leg or has short legs due to a disability may require special pedals to be installed to accommodate the impairment. Other examples of upgrades that trucking companies can make include:
- Hand controls;
- Adaptive electronics controls;
- Left foot accelerators;
- Wheelchair lifts and ramps;
- Reduced effort braking systems.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) even provides a guide for adapting motor vehicles for people with disabilities, which includes accommodations such as:
- High or extra wide doors;
- Larger interior door handles;
- Oversized control knobs with clearly visible labels;
- Support handles;
- Larger or adjustable-size print for dashboard gauges;
- Seat adjusters;
- Dashboard-mounted ignitions.
These are just a few examples of accommodations that would be considered reasonable to ensure a driver with a disability can still safely operate their vehicle while still complying with FMCSA regulations.
It’s important for HR professionals in the trucking industry to be familiar with the laws outlined by the EEOC and the ADA. Just because a truck driver is or becomes disabled, does not disqualify them from obtaining or retaining a commercial driver’s license. Furthermore, it is crucial that human resources provide disabled truck drivers with the appropriate resources so they can recover the Social Security Disability benefits they are entitled to.
If a trucking company does not make reasonable accommodations or if they try to restrict their drivers from filing Social Security claims, they could face legal issues. It is not unreasonable to expect a disabled truck driver to hire a lawyer to handle their disability claim if they are facing pushback from their employer.
Employers should strive to foster inclusivity and accommodate a diverse range of needs. It shouldn’t just be about avoiding legal issues and complying with labor laws. Trucking companies should want to do better to create a happier, healthier work environment. With a more inclusive mindset, companies are more likely to attract valuable employees who can help the company grow and succeed.
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