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By Ed Taylor
June 8—Companies facing difficulties complying with a Brazilian law setting requirements for handicapped employees stand to benefit from an important legal precedent in their favor.
A 1991 law established quotas of handicapped workers for Brazilian companies set as a percentage of total employees. For companies with 100 to 500 employees, disabled workers must constitute between 2 percent and 5 percent of the work force. Above 500 employees, the requirement is 5 percent. Companies that do not meet these requirements are subject to hefty fines.
Since 2006, the labor ministry has sharply increased its enforcement of the law, but many companies have argued they cannot meet the quotas because there are simply not enough qualified handicapped workers to go around.
On May 30, in a case involving the Brazil unit of American Glass Products, the supreme labor court ruled that if a company can show it was unable to meet its quota even after serious effort, it can be exempted from the requirement.
The company was appealing a decision by the seventh chamber of the superior court that gave AGP three months to meet its quota for handicapped workers or face fines surpassing $150,000. In its appeal to the court's chamber that consolidates disparate rulings, the company stated that it had tried without success to find enough handicapped workers to meet its quota.
According to the company's attorney, Jose Alberto Couto Maciel of the law firm Maciel Attorneys, AGP had placed notices offering jobs for the handicapped with employment agencies and on the Internet. Maciel noted as well that the labor court's eighth chamber had ruled in favor of a company in a similar case.
“We have seen many companies that want to follow the law fail to do so because of the difficulty in finding handicapped workers to fill job positions,” Maciel said. “In addition to not having enough handicapped workers, there are specialized jobs for which the handicapped are not qualified.”
In ruling in favor of the company, the labor court's minister Joao Batista Brito Pereira said it was undeniable that AGP had tried to find handicapped workers and “could not be held responsible for its lack of success and therefore could not be fined.”
Maciel called the decision an important precedent since it attempts to solidify the court's position on an issue that has seen conflicting rulings from the court's different chambers.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Taylor in Rio de Janeiro at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at email@example.com
For more information on Brazilian HR law and regulation, see the Brazil primer.
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