Advantages and Disadvantages of Hiring Disabled Employees
With over 600 million people in the world being classified as disabled and after the institution of numerous laws preventing workplace discrimination, one would expect an even playing ground for the disabled with regards to employment. This is not true, however, as non-employment is one of the greatest challenges faced by the disabled. Traditionally, there have been many bottlenecks towards hiring disabled workers including negative attitudes, the inadequacy of technologies and accommodations, ignorance of the law regarding disability among many other misconceptions. Most of these misconceptions have been dispelled, but the employment situation for the disabled seems not to be improving. This paper aims to explore the issue further and offer insights on the advantages and disadvantages that emanate from hiring disabled workers.
The World Health Organization defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to perform normal daily duties. These disabilities have been the cause for biased assumptions, harmful stereotypes, and irrational fears that have raged on for centuries leaving people with disabilities severely impoverished. Throughout history, people with disabilities were considered meager pitiful individuals whose only contribution to society was as a source of entertainment in circuses and exhibitions. In many communities, these people were either killed, sterilized, or forced to enter into asylums and institutions where a majority spent their entire lives.
The 1930s saw an improvement in the stature of the disabled worker after the introduction of novel technologies led to an upsurge in the productivity of disabled workers. Advocacy for the rights began earnestly in the civil rights era of the 1990s and culminated in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. At last, disabled employees could enjoy equal opportunities as other employees. Despite numerous legislative measures, however, the disabled employee is still discriminated against in the workplace.
Since the 1990s, the state of employment for people with disability has deteriorated. More people with disabilities are non-employed now than in the 1990s despite technological advances that enable them to reach their full potential. This has seen labor force inactivity for people with disabilities that is twice or more that of other workers. In the UK, for example, only 40% of the approximately 21 million people with disabilities have full or part-time work as compared to an 80% employment rate for non-disabled adults. In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, only 44% of adults with disabilities had employment as compared to a 75% employment rate of the population at large, showing significant gaps in employment between the two groups. In the US, however, the situation is direr as a study done between 2010 and 2012 portrays. In the report, only 21% of disabled employees are employed in contrast to a 66% employment rate for the general population (Stein, 2000). Due to stigma and other difficulties in attaining work, most of the disabled adults (75%) decide not to look for work altogether. Since these disabled adults have extra expenses associated with their disability, most end up seeking disability benefits which have seen a 600% increase in most industrialized nations. Governments, unions, and private corporations are now faced with the challenge of finding ways with which to bring disabled employees back to work.
Challenges Disabled Employees Face
There are numerous reasons posited as to why companies do not employee disabled employees. One of the widest-cited reason is a general bias by employers. 48% of employers who did not hire disabled employees stated that they have general reservations towards hiring disabled workers. This is not surprising, however, as society, the media, and politicians deem disabled people as shy and lazy. Disabled employees are also thought to be disloyal and untrustworthy.
Productivity and accommodation costs have also been cited by 33% of employers. Besides the notion that disabled employees are slow, they are also thought to require numerous accommodations that do not only take time but cost the company money. The productivity misconception is also why some employers will pay lower wages to disabled employees. On average, after controlling for health, education, and experience, the disabled workers still receive 15-35% lesser wages than their non-disabled counterparts. Additionally, the disabled have lower-paying jobs than the non-disabled.
Disabled employees are also thought to be less knowledgeable and intelligent than their non-disabled counterparts. In the previous study, 14% of the employers who failed to hire disabled workers stated that they did not think disabled employees had the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work. This bias continues even after the disabled employee is hired, and is the reason why most of them are not offered promotion opportunities.
Employers are not the only ones who have biases towards disabled employees. There are numerous incidences where non-disabled employees have failed to work on projects that involve disabled employees. As a means to avoid conflict between disabled and non-disabled employees, 8% of the interviewed employers cited negative coworker reactions as a reason not to hire a disabled worker. Most of these myths will be dissipated in the next section that discusses the advantage of hiring disabled employees.
- Disabled employees are more productive
A common misconception among many employers and people is that people with disabilities are lazy and thus their productivity levels are lower than those for other workers. This is, however, not true as numerous studies have established that on average workers with disabilities have high-performance ratings than their colleagues. Additionally, these people have better retention rates and attendance rates. A 2012 study on people with disabilities found that all research participants wanted to work and not live on benefits as is the common misconception. These workers are fully aware of how hard it is for people with disabilities to find work and will thus go to greater lengths to retain the job, usually through greater effort. Additionally, due to the misconception of laziness and a lack of ability, many people with disabilities feel the need to work harder and prove themselves in their job roles, hence higher productivity (L & K, 2012). These findings were echoed by a United Nations report that found higher rates of productivity in workers with a disability as well as more overtime hours for the group, indicating a need to perform better. Besides the need to prove themselves, the many hurdles faced on a daily basis by people with disabilities motivate them to accomplish even more. The notion of laziness and low productivity by people with disabilities is thus a misconception with the opposite being true.
- They have lower instances of turnover
The reason why many institutions invest so much into the recruitment process is to reduce instances of turnover due to the associated costs. These include the cost of constantly training and recruiting new staff, the lack of continuity, and the opportunity cost caused by gaps when vacancies are being filled. Since traditionally people with disabilities have been viewed as more likely to depart from an organization than their non-disabled counterparts, employers have been wary of hiring them on these grounds. Research has, however, shown that employees with disabilities have higher retention rates and prefer to perform their duties efficiently without much complaint from their supervisors. Much of this arises as a result of difficulties in finding alternative employment which leads them to be loyal in nature while preferring to stay in their current job without changing their position or post on a frequent basis.
- Lower levels of absenteeism
The low levels of turnover are also linked to low levels of absenteeism and utilization of sick leaves. A 2002 U.S. study found that people with disabilities have better attendance records and lesser sick leaves leading to absenteeism costs as low as 34% of the cost incurred by their colleagues. Employers thus experience lower turnover costs when dealing with employees with disabilities and also experience other costs cuts such as reduced supervision costs as well and absenteeism which makes a strong financial case for why businesses should hire and retain employees with disabilities.
- They are a large untapped labor pool
People with disabilities also provide a large untapped labor pool that employers can tap into to improve business performance. It has been found that people with disabilities have the same levels of education and experience as their non-disabled counterparts hence organizations that fail to include people with disabilities in their recruitment efforts limit their access to qualified and talented workers. Additionally, for small businesses who experience difficulties attracting qualified candidates since they cannot offer competitive salaries and benefits package, overlooking qualified candidates, even though disabled, means hiring mediocre employees which in turn hurts the chances for business success.
- They have a unique approach to problem-solving
Besides being highly skilled, people with disabilities also bring a fresh outlook to solving problems which aid the organization solve its problems as well as eliciting a positive work morale. Although faced with physical abilities, most mentally sound people with disabilities have certain extremely mental abilities that non-disabled workers can only think of. These people with disabilities are confronted with more challenges on a daily basis that they have to find flexible, creative, and workable solutions for which greatly improves their mental acuity. This creativity and flexibility in handling issues are beneficial to the organization and if translated to the whole enterprise can be utilized even in teams that have no disabled employee. Employees with disabilities also cognize the problems that customers with disabilities face hence hiring them improves an organization’s understanding of how to deal with and retain customers with disabilities. Employees with disabilities thus do not only lead to a fresh way of handling problems for an organization but also improves diversity in the work with the end result of improved employee morale and job satisfaction.
- They have numerous tax benefits
Hiring employees with disabilities also has numerous tax benefits for the organization which far outweigh the financial costs of accommodation. In accordance with the ADA, companies with more than 15 employees are required to offer accommodations such as the construction of ramps as well as further refurbishments to the building. A majority of these costs are subsidized by the government with some of them being tax deductible. Other governments may also choose to offer direct tax reductions on the salaries of employees with disabilities which further reduces the cost of retention. Besides the tax incentives, other government incentives include the provision of funds for recruiting disabled persons for small businesses as well as the provision of work opportunity credit to organizations that hire workers with disabilities.
- They have legal benefits for the company
Legal benefits also suffice for organizations with disabled employees. Organizations that hire employees with disabilities stand a better chance of being in compliance with the ADA which significantly reduces certain legal problems such as charges of discrimination in the workplace. Lawsuits linked with discrimination not only lead to financial losses as well as wasted time in litigation but may also lead to irreparable damage to an organization’s corporate image.
- They significantly improve a business ethical-corporate image
Hiring workers with a disability can significantly improve a business’ ethical corporate image leading to other benefits (ILO, 2015). In today’s competitive world, many corporations are finding it hard to maintain a competitive advantage leading them to embrace corporate social responsibility as a way of building a positive image. Embracing diversity is a pivotal facet of CSR which is why many organizations struggle to accommodate diverse workplaces, essentially by bridging the gender gap and hiring persons with disabilities. In a small community, especially, hiring persons with disabilities significantly improves a corporation’s standing with customers and business associates. According to a University of Massachusetts survey, for example, 92% of Americans have a more positive view of businesses that hire persons with disabilities while 87% of the public state that they would prefer doing business with a company that hires persons with disabilities than one that does not.
The positive ethical image of hiring persons with disabilities is translated to employee retention, job satisfaction, and hiring. A business with the reputation of hiring disabled persons is more attractive to prospective employees as there is a notion of safety and care. A study by Towers Watson concluded that in times of lack of qualified persons or what is termed the “war of talents”, companies with a history of hiring persons with disabilities have an easier time recruiting talented employees who are also more motivated to work.
Despite technological progression and the move by governments and corporations to enhance the hiring of workers with disabilities, there still exists various issues that make it unfavorable for employers to hire persons with disabilities.
- Costly accommodations and technology
The cost of updating infrastructure or making workplace accommodations has to be borne by the employer. Under the ADA, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to workplace infrastructure including the installation of wheelchair ramps and physical alterations to a disabled employee’s workstation. Almost half of these accommodations cost absolutely nothing and in 65% of cases where accommodations have been required, they cost between $1 and $500. Despite these low costs and the fact that some are subsidized through government incentives, many employers still experience difficulties due to time and resource constraints. Employers, for example, have to spend time arranging for the accommodations which lead to delays in active employment or the completion of specific projects. Employers also have to hire caretakers to assist the disabled people, restrict parking spaces, and post handicap signs which are an added cost to the corporation. Additionally, it has been shown that I some instances the supervision costs may improve as there always has to be a worker at hand to assist a disabled person.
Besides the update to infrastructure, organizations wishing to leverage the skills of workers with disabilities have to make technological updates to improve the productivity of the worker. Workers with disabilities are reportedly slow in performing their duties and require special software to improve their speed or to perform certain tasks and this requires the organization to tap into its financial resources. In most cases, organizations will not have a history of using these technologies and will be necessitated to hire specialists or train existing people in the organization, and both options need time and money. Even when the employees with disabilities know how to utilize the technologies, they will still need assistance as there are some operations that they cannot perform.
- Low speed of work
Workers with disabilities also have a lower speed of working as compared to people with no disability. People with disability thus need comparatively more time to perform a task than a normal person which may make a difference especially in jobs where time is a factor such as in a factory with an assembly line. Additionally, the type of disability significantly affects the type of work that the disabled person can do. Persons with aphysical disability, for example, cannot perform tasks that require a high degree of physical exertion while people with mental disability will most likely perform manual jobs. As most jobs require some degree of job rotation, employers are apprehensive about hiring people with disabilities if it will affect the performance of some jobs or the speed of completing tasks.
- Risk of conflict between disabled and non-disabled employees
While we live in a modern era governed by laws and social tendencies that have opened the doors for the disabled in the workplace, instances of discrimination are still rife and threaten cohesion and peace in the workplace. Many non-disabled employees still hesitate before working with disabled employees, some since they do not like some aspects about the people with disability and others due to their perceived slothfulness in completing tasks. If a specific disability will cause the slowdown of a project, many workers will be apprehensive about working with the disabled employee. While some of these fears are factual, some are myths but they remain a daily occurrence that employers have to contend with. These issues might result in conflicts that may affect an organization’s morale and productivity. Additionally, the scale of these conflicts might necessitate the human resources department to intervene to rectify them. Such intervention takes time and resources including collection and dissemination of statistical data about this demographic as well as training and aconstant reminder about the definition and consequences of workplace discrimination. These situations also present a challenge for the rest of the workforce who have to act as intermediaries between the persons with disabilities and those discriminating against them. Many employers will hope to avoid such conflicts before they happen and thus resortto not hiring people with disabilities in the first place.
- Laying them off is expensive
Laying off a non-performing employee who is disabled can be both expensive and treacherous. Over half of all employment lawsuits involve terminations with many involving disabled workers who have been fired. A majority of these lawsuits are ridiculous, but they are both time consuming and expensive. A disabled worker might feel compelled to prosecute after being fired especially since the prospects of acquiring another job are more diminished than that of the average person. Besides the time and costs taken in litigation, these lawsuits also hurt the company image significantly leading to loss of goodwill and business. To prevent this increased threat of litigation, most employers opt not to hire disabled workers in the first place since discrimination in hiring is hard to prove.
Need for Skilled Knowledge Workers
The past three decades have witnessed an investment in labor-saving technologies and outsourcing of industry to nations with low-cost labor. The consequences of this has been an increase in demand for skilled labor that surpasses the supply. A McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) study projects that this upsurge in demand for skilled labor will a 38 million to 40 million deficit in the number of employees with tertiary education globally by 2020. By the same year, it is also projected that there will be a 45 million deficit in the number of employees with secondary education in developing nations and a deficit of 95 million low-skilled workers. An aging population in most developed nations will also lead to a removal of over 360 million old people from the labor force, 38 million of whom will be college-educated workers. In most industrialized nations, the shortage is already being felt with a 2012 study finding that over one-third of over 38,000 companies stating that they could not find the workers they needed. Additionally, over 40% of employers in the OECD have reported experienced difficulties finding skilled employees, particularly in manufacturing. Asia, however, has the biggest shortage of skilled labor with over 60% of Indian and Japanese firms experiencing problems finding qualified workers.
And earlier explained, disabled employees present a large untapped labor force but most choose to rely on disability benefits. In the previous 2010-2012 study, 30% of disabled adults reported having a high school diploma or its equivalent, 12% reported having attended some post-secondary studies, 27% has an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and 9% had a master’s or postgraduate degree. Their availability as well as the advantages stated above show why they should be absorbed into the labor force especially in these times of increased demand for skilled labor.
As evidenced by the above discussion, most of what people consider as disadvantages regarding the hire of people with disabilities are actually myths that should be dispelled. There is a need for employers to hire persons with disabilities to not only comply with statutory requirements but also due to the added benefits of hiring persons with disabilities. Doing this, however, requires a change in the mindset of employers, the employees with disabilities, and the non-disabled employees. Employers first have to avail resources towards the collection and dissemination of information regarding this marginalized group. They should also offer training to work teams on the benefits of a diverse work setting as well as the dangers of discrimination. Additionally, employers should avail resources towards the construction of accommodations as well as the purchase of technology that will enable persons to become more comfortable and productive at work. Employers can then take advantage of tax incentives and other government schemes given to organizations that employ persons with disabilities to mitigate against the accommodation costs.
Employers also need to utilize employment agencies that deal with persons with disabilities when recruiting in order to hire competent and qualified staff. They should also offer equal opportunities for advancement as well as salary packages and incentives that are equal for all workers to not only improve morale but also avoid litigation. Organizations must also educate themselves on the advantages and disadvantages of hiring workers with disabilities in order to make an informed decision when hiring. There are many advantages to hiring workers with disabilities that far outweigh the costs and organizations should thus to include this relatively untapped workforce into their hiring decisions.
In conclusion, disabled employees have been facing discrimination for ages and in the past decade, their employment numbers have been falling worldwide. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that there are many myths being propagated about disabled employees. Many employers deem disabled employees as lazy, shy, and an economic burden to the organization. The truth, however, is that disabled employees are more productive and loyal than non-disabled employees. They not only have higher attendance rates, they also have a unique approach to problem-solving that if emulated would benefit the whole organization. Besides these benefits, they also offer some tax and legal benefits to the firm. Employers wishing to leverage on these benefits must, however, contend with some issues. Employers must first be willing to invest time into purchasing technology for disabled employees in order to improve their work speed. They also have to invest in accommodations such as ramps and teaching non-disabled employees about the benefits of having disabled colleagues.
ILO. (2015). Decent work for persons with disabilities: promoting rights in the global development agenda. Geneva: International Labor Office.
L, A., & K, O. (2012). The views of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. New York: Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Stein, M. (2000). Labor Markets, Rationality, and Workers with Disabilities. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 314-334.
Vaughn, J. (2003). Disabled Rights: American Policy and the Fight for Equality. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press.