Employment prejudice Companies Ignoring Disabled Workers

German companies are doing little to increase the number of disabled people they employ, but the government is now looking to seriously address their prejudices and concerns.
Companies need to hire more disabled workers. 

Forever Clean is a company that prides itself on its diverse workforce. In a country where employers still struggle to take the issue of discrimination against disability seriously, the Berlin-based cleaning firm is an exception in that 40 percent of its 77 employees are registered disabled.

Aynur Boldaz, the company’s managing director, said there is no problem combining social engagement and business strategy. “Whatever I invest in my workers, both those with and without disabilities, I get back.”

But few employers feel the same way. New research shows that employment prospects for disabled people are worsening.

Research from disabled rights group Action Man and the Handelsblatt Research Institute shows that the number of people with severe disabilities who are unemployed but looking for work has increased by 3,000, to a total of 179,000 in the last year.

On average, disabled people must search about 100 days more than others for a job. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 14 percent; over double the national average.

This week is Disability Awareness Week in Germany, and Verena Bentele, the government’s disabilities commissioner, wants to address the prejudices and concerns companies have over employing people with disabilities.

Ms. Bentele has first hand experience of her subject. She was born blind, but has also managed to win several gold medals in the Paralympics for cross country skiing. She has also worked as a consultant, offering advice to companies on team building.

“What always astonished me most during my time as a consultant, is how little people are aware that there are so many highly qualified people with disabilities,” Ms. Bentele said. She added that many disabled people require only the most minor assistance in order to work at a high-level job.

Certainly there is very little difference in the skill sets of the disabled and able bodied workforce. Around 59 percent of people who are classed as severely disabled have sought skilled jobs in the past year; a shade higher than the 54 percent of able-bodied unemployed people seeking work.


What always astonished me is how little people are aware that there are so many highly qualified people with disabilities. Verena Bentele, German government disabilities commissioner

The government has tried a carrot and stick approach to encourage companies to hire more people with disabilities.

There are training subsidies and integration allowances – public funds paid to employers to help to meet the needs of their disabled employees to help offset the costs.

There is also a quota. Companies that employ over 20 people are obliged to ensure that 5 percent of their workforce is made up of disabled people, and have to pay a fine, known as an equalization levy, if they miss this target. The fines range from €115 to €290 a month for each position that should have been filled by someone with a disability.

But despite this legislation, 60 percent of all companies do not fill their quotas, and 25 percent have no disabled employees at all. Companies would in many cases prefer to pay the fines than diversify their workplaces.

Ms. Bentele also wants to address the way companies deal with employees who develop a disability, either through an accident or through illness. Most disabled people develop their infirmity through the course of their lifetime: only 0.18 percent of the 7.5 million people with disabilities were born with them.

She suggests setting up a central agency to help companies to deal with the issues that arise when one of their staff need extra help coping with new or existing disabilities.


Peter Thelen is a Handelsblatt correspondent focusing on social security issues, the job market, collective labor agreements and wage policies. To contact the author: [email protected]