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Academic Careers

Employment for Scientists with Disabilities in Germany

Many job ads from Germany published in scientific journals contain a statement that says language like, “Persons with disabilities will, with appropriate qualifications and aptitudes, be employed preferentially.” While equal opportunity statements are common enough, it’s rare to find overt statements of preference. We were curious.
Martin Kock, a lawyer specializing in employment law based in Düren, Germany, writes in an e-mail to Science Careers that statements of preferential treatment are not mandatory under German law, even for the public employers with whom these statements most often originate.

The statements have, however, become traditional among public employers because of German laws related to disability. Unlike the United States (but similar to several other European countries), Germany uses a quota system to try to increase the number of people with disabilities in the workforce. In particular, all employers with 20 or more employees must fill 5 percent of their jobs with employees with disabilities. If the employers don’t comply (and in fact, most don’t, Kock points out in a paper), they must pay a penalty.
Public employers — the source of many scientific jobs — have further requirements. If a person with disabilities applies for a job and meets the job requirements, the public employer must interview him or her, even if other applicants are better qualified. The public employer must also notify its designated representative for employees with disabilities, who has the right to participate in the interview process. The public employer may also have a voluntary agreement with that representative to raise its quotas. A preferential hiring policy can encourage more applicants with disabilities and help the employer reach its hiring goals, Kock writes.
Once hired, people with disabilities in Germany have the right to benefits, including additional
annual leave and protection against dismissal, writes by e-mail placement officer Stefanie Pörschke of the German Federal Employment Agency’s International Placement Services. 
Importantly, most protections and benefits apply only to those with a level of disability that the government decides is “severe.” In order to get a designation of “severe disability,” people in Germany must apply for a disability card (called a ‘Schwerbebehindertenausweis’) at a local government office for pensions and benefits. Pörschke advises applicants with questions about benefits and procedures to get in touch with a potential employer’s representative for people with disabilities “before the job interview.” (This Web site also has useful information.)
These laws are clearly meant to create a positive work environment for people with disabilities. Whether they succeed, writes Pörschke — especially in the case of scientists with disabilities — is harder to say.