By Amanda Reaume
Employers are hiring more employees with disabilities – and for good reason. These workers are critical to winning the war on talent because they can be highly skilled – and too often overlooked. Adding people with different levels of experience to a team can also have a positive impact on the corporate culture and, ultimately, the company’s bottom line.
Some companies may already employ a number of workers with disabilities and fail to realize this. Joe Nuzzo, ADP’s vice president-counsel, global sales and marketing, believes that businesses should understand that the concept of disability as recognized by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) encompasses a wide range of conditions. These include physical disabilities, chronic illnesses, invisible disabilities, mental illnesses, cognitive disabilities, blindness, and deafness.
The ADA covers an estimated 54 million Americans, Nuzzo said, citing the latest industry statistics.
“Almost every American at some point in their life may have an illness that is classified as a disability,” he said.
However, disabled employees are often afraid to disclose their terms. They may have difficulty finding suitable accommodation and be discriminated against by colleagues. This in turn can lead to integration problems in the workplace and to higher sales.
How can organizations hire and retain disabled people and ensure that their workplaces are welcoming and safe? Here are four ways to become a top choice for workers with disabilities:
- Know and follow the ADA and other disability rights laws
The ADA protects employees with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. Therefore, it is important that organizations understand their obligations under the law.
However, the ADA isn’t the only law your organization may have to follow.
“Most states have similar anti-discrimination laws that protect people with disabilities,” said Nuzzo. “Some have stricter requirements.”
When it comes to accessibility, it is important to think carefully about what it means for your business. Not having a wheelchair ramp is an obvious barrier, according to Nuzzo, but an organization could inadvertently exclude or disadvantage disabled people.
“Is your hiring process accessible to everyone, including applicants with hearing or visual impairments?” Said Nuzzo.
Whenever an employee reports a health need or reveals a disability, the ADA triggers obligations.
“As soon as an employee realizes that they have a disability and may need housing, the employer has to have this individual discussion with them,” said Nuzzo. “You need to make sure you fully understand their needs and fully explore possible solutions.”
Discrimination against employees with disabilities, who can sue organizations that violate the law, can have significant consequences.
- Proactively hire employees with disabilities
Given the sheer number of workers with disabilities and the current low unemployment rate, organizations that do not actively recruit this group are more likely to have problems recruiting skilled workers.
“If you don’t get in touch with this segment of the population,” said Nuzzo, “you’re really narrowing your reach.”
He suggests posting job advertisements on job listings targeted at the disability community and making sure the descriptions are written to appeal to people with disabilities. It can be particularly attractive to offer flexible working hours or teleworking.
“I think the companies that excel at employing people with disabilities are finding a workforce that is incredibly determined, has much higher levels of employee retention than their peers, and an innate ability to innovate and problem-solve,” said Nuzzo.
- Optimize accommodations
Many employees with disabilities have difficulty getting permission to stay in accommodation, such as permission to buy an adaptive device or occasional work from home. According to Nuzzo, companies should process these requests quickly to help employees avoid pain or difficulty doing their job in the meantime.
“If people don’t know how to apply for housing, or if your process just takes too long, it can in some cases lead to legal disputes or an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indictment,” he said. “It is important for companies to have an efficient process in place to receive, evaluate and respond to accommodation requests.”
Part of this process is giving managers the ability to act quickly to approve requests, in part by setting clear standards for accommodations that shouldn’t require additional approvals. Organizations should also look closely at requests that a manager declines for any reason.
Finally, Nuzzo suggests that companies should have a feedback process that can be used to determine whether employees are happy with their accommodations.
- Create the right culture
Some companies hire people with disabilities, but do not create cultures to ensure that these employees are treated with respect and dignity.
For example, comments from employees or managers on something as small as an employee with disabilities using flexible work options can create a disrespectful environment, Nuzzo said. The lack of the right culture can lead some people to try to hide their disabilities from their peers for fear that it could affect their careers.
“Part of nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce is helping you to consistently treat people with respect and dignity,” said Nuzzo. “A company cannot buy this culture. It’s something that has grown over time. A company needs to consistently communicate about the type of company it wants to be. “
It is therefore important to focus on hiring people who share the same values. Nuzzo said you can do this by making it clear during the interview process as well that diversity and inclusion are a key priority for the company. It is also important to let existing employees know how to work respectfully with disabled colleagues.
Nuzzo has even seen some companies create employee resource groups for disabled employees to give them spaces where they can raise issues, network, and explore career development. These groups can also help establish this feedback loop to ensure that the company’s efforts are effective.
Having a strong reporting mechanism for employees exposed to discrimination is also a good idea.
“When disabled workers experience something inappropriate, they have a mechanism in place to report it so that it is dealt with seriously and quickly, and they are not afraid of retaliation,” he said.
Businesses suffer without disabled workers
Overall, Nuzzo believes that organizations that fail to make efforts to hire and retain workers with disabilities will suffer.
“The companies that promote this strong culture of diversity and inclusion outperform those that don’t,” said Nuzzo. “You experience better employee loyalty. They have higher employee engagement which enables them to provide better customer service, which benefits the bottom line. “
Nonetheless, he warns organizations not only to talk about diversity but also to go the way.
“All of the good work a company does to promote diversity and inclusion … that work is compromised when the company says one thing but the real experience is different,” he said.
For more information and articles like this, visit adp.com/spark.
Amanda Reaume is a freelance writer and writer on the Millennial Personal Finance blog. She is also the author of two personal finance books for millennials: “Money Is Everything” and “The Complete Guide to a Debt Free Education”.
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