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When a Tele-Marketer Fails to Accommodate

October 14 2009 | by

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued a Dallas-area tele-marketing firm for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing an employee with multiple sclerosis, according to the Dallas Business Journal.

The suit, filed last week in federal district court in Dallas, alleges that Mannatech, Inc. engaged in “unlawful employment practices” by firing the worker, Jill Roberts, from her job in a call center because of her disability. According to the EEOC’s complaint, Roberts also asked for a “reasonable accommodation to use the restroom on an as-needed basis.” That request was denied, the EEOC’s court records allege.

Roberts has multiple sclerosis, court records say, along with a condition called neurogenic bladder syndrome, which she developed as a consequence of the multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord are attacked by the body’s immune system.

Mannatech is a tele-marketing firm that sells vitamin, lotions and other products “designed to help boost your body’s ability to stay healthy.” Most associates work from their homes on commission; it’s an ideal job for someone with a physical disability whose mobility is limited. Its web site claims associates can build their home-based business and eventually earn a “long-term income stream” that “could provide the quality of life most people only dream about.”

For many people with significant disabilities, the increasing prevalence of telework offers the possibility of an accessible, barrier-free workplace, flexible scheduling, and the elimination of disability-related bias or discrimination. At New Jersey-based CORA, people with disabilities are trained specifically in this type of work, and CORA promotes social inclusion through “Second Life” technology, the 3D virtual world where individuals can represent themselves as avatars that can walk, talk and interact with others.

People with disabilities are more willing to work part-time, for no benefits, and are often the first to be let go in a downturn. Unfortunately it seems that they are still being chastised for needing special accommodations, which are required under the ADA, even as they are helping companies to fill much-needed tele-sales roles.

With their focus on technology and remote workplaces, tele-marketing firms should be the model of flexibility and accessibility. For Mannatech, saying no to a bathroom break puts the company back in the dark ages of mill and factory workers.

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