Upsides to Hiring the Disabled Balanced by Employer Hiring Concerns

March 31, 2008 ( - A new study about the pros and cons of hiring disabled workers found that while positive workplace experiences abound, many hiring managers continue to have concerns about potential problems.

The study, Exploring the Bottom Line: A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Workers with Disabilities, found that employers’ hesitation about bringing on a disabled person has become a significant impediment toward overcoming efforts to bring more disabled Americans into the workplace.

“In the United States, one of the greatest challenges experienced by individuals with disabilities is employment,” researchers said in the study. “Research indicates that employer attitudes contribute to this pervasive problem. Specifically, some employers have misperceptions about the abilities of individuals with disabilities and the costs associated with the provision of accommodations.”

In the study effort, Depaul University and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) conducted focus groups (21 administrators from 16 firms) and cost-benefit surveys that focused on the health care, retail, and hospitality sectors (13 companies with 314 employees).

According to the report, focus group findings centered on several central themes:

  • Disability employment agencies and disability advocates were critical for recruiting and hiring workers with disabilities.
  • Managers were viewed as having biases against workers with disabilities and concerns with the cost of accommodations.
  • Promotion opportunities were limited for workers with disabilities with many identified as holding and remaining in entry-level positions.
  • Costs associated with workers with disabilities were minimal and worth the expense.
  • Benefits associated with workers with disabilities included having dedicated and reliable employees and a more diverse workforce.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

According to the report, the cost-benefit analysis centered onsix work-related variables: tenure, absenteeism, job performance, supervision, worker’s compensation claims, and accommodations.

The report found that employees with disabilities have much to contribute to the labor force:

  • Participants with disabilities from the retail and hospitality sectors stayed on the job longer than participants without disabilities.
  • Across all sectors, participants with disabilities had fewer scheduled absences than those without disabilities.
  • Retail participants with disabilities had fewer days of unscheduled absences than those without disabilities.
  • Regardless of sector, participants with and without disabilities had nearly identical job performance ratings.
  • Across all sectors, the difference in amount of supervision required ratings were relatively minor among both participants with and without disabilities.

Workers interviewed for the study contended that manager bias against workers with disabilities existed. These biases included fears that supervisory time would increase, productivity would suffer, and frequent absences would occur if people with disabilities were hired. According to participants, there were also managerial concerns about budget strains related to providing disability-related accommodations.

The study also found that managers were fearful of asking the wrong questions during interviews and responding in ways that would make them liable under the law.

The study is available here .