Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Disability Accommodations: Recent Study

As lawyers fight over an employer’s duty to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a recent paper on employer accommodation practices finds, among other things, that disability accommodations may benefit co-workers and employers as well as the disabled worker: Lisa Schur et al., “Accommodating Employees With and Without Disabilities,” Human Resources Management (published online July 1, 2014).  Here’s the abstract:

Efforts to recruit and retain employees with disabilities are often tempered by employers’ concerns over potential workplace accommodation costs. This study reports on accommodations requested and granted in intensive case studies of eight companies, based on more than 5,000 employee and manager surveys, and interviews and focus groups with 128 managers and employees with disabilities. Two unique contributions are that we analyze accommodations for employees without disabilities as well as for those with disabilities, and compare perspectives on accommodation costs and benefits among employees, their coworkers, and their managers. We find people with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to request accommodations, but the types of accommodations requested and the reported costs and benefits are similar for disability and non-disability accommodations. In particular, fears of high accommodation costs and negative reactions of coworkers are not realized; all groups tend to report generally positive coworker reactions. Multilevel models indicate granting accommodations has positive spillover effects on attitudes of coworkers, as well as a positive effect on attitudes of requesting employees, but only when coworkers are supportive. Consistent with recent theorizing and other studies, our results suggest the benefits from a corporate culture of flexibility and attention to the individualized needs of employees.

The eight employers in the study were a pharmaceutical company, a hospital, a disability service organization, a financial services company, a consumer products manufacturer, a supermarket chain, a restaurant, and an infrastructure services company.  According to the authors, the study’s findings “on the value of accommodations should help address potential employer concerns about accommodation costs, which historically has been one of the perceived barriers to the employment of individuals with disabilities.”

--Sachin Pandya

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