By Beth Loy, Ph.D.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act and regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission refocused attention on workplace accommodations by broadening the definition of disability; more coverage means more employees will likely be entitled to workplace accommodations. This increased attention has some employers concerned about the costs of providing job accommodations. However, a study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), shows that workplace accommodations not only are low cost, but also positively impact the workplace in many ways.
The JAN study has been on-going since 2004. JAN, in partnership with the University of Iowa’s Law, Health Policy, and Disability Center (LHPDC), interviewed 1,182 employers between January 2004 and December 2006. In addition, JAN, in partnership with the West Virginia University School of Social Work (formerly School of Applied Social Sciences), interviewed 807 employers between June 28, 2008, and July 31, 2013. Employers in the JAN study represented a range of industry sectors and sizes and contacted JAN for information about workplace accommodations, the ADA, or both. Approximately eight weeks after their initial contact, the employers were asked a series of questions about the situation they discussed with JAN and the quality of the services JAN provided.
The study results consistently showed that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (58%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.
And to top off these positive results about the cost and benefits of workplace accommodation, the employers in the study also reported that JAN understood their needs and provided information that met their needs. In addition, 99% of employers stated that they would use JAN services again for assistance with workplace accommodations.
What is the bottom line? Workplace accommodations are low cost and high impact, and JAN can help employers make them, free of charge.
Finding #1: Employers want to provide accommodations so they can retain valued and qualified employees.
Of the employers who called JAN for accommodation information and solutions, most were doing so to retain or promote (84%) a current employee. On average (including those persons who had just been given a job offer or who were newly hired), the employees had been with the company about seven years, with an average wage of about $14 for those paid by the hour, or an average annual salary of about $50,000. In addition, the individuals tended to be fairly well-educated, with 47% having a college degree or higher.
Finding #2: Most employers report no cost or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities.
Of the employers who gave cost information related to accommodations they had provided, 355 out of 610 (58%) said the accommodations needed by employees cost absolutely nothing. Another 222 (36%) experienced a one-time cost. Only 24 (4%) said the accommodation resulted in an ongoing, annual cost to the company and 9 (1%) said the accommodation required a combination of one-time and annual costs; however, too few of these employers provided cost data to report with accuracy. Of those accommodations that did have a cost, the typical one-time expenditure by employers was $500. When asked how much they paid for an accommodation beyond what they would have paid for an employee without a disability who was in the same position, employers typically answered around $500.
Finding #3: Employers report accommodations are effective.
Employers who had implemented accommodations by the time they were interviewed were asked to rank the effectiveness of the accommodations on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being extremely effective. Of those responding, 76% reported the accommodations were either very effective or extremely effective.
Finding #4: Employers experience multiple direct and indirect benefits after making accommodations.
Employers who made accommodations for employees with disabilities reported multiple benefits as a result. The most frequently mentioned direct benefits were: (1) the accommodation allowed the company to retain a qualified employee, (2) the accommodation increased the employee’s productivity, and (3) the accommodation eliminated the costs of training a new employee.
The most widely mentioned indirect benefits employers received were: (1) the accommodation ultimately improved interactions with co-workers, (2) the accommodation increased overall company morale, and (3) the accommodation increased overall company productivity. The following table gives the percentage of employers who reported experiencing direct and indirect benefits as a result of having made an accommodation.
Direct Benefits %
Retained a valued employee 90%
Increased the employee’s productivity 71%
Eliminated costs associated with training a new employee 61%
Increased the employee’s attendance 54%
Increased diversity of the company 41%
Saved workers’ compensation or other insurance costs 39%
Hired a qualified person with a disability 13%
Promoted an employee 9%
Indirect Benefits %
Improved interactions with co-workers 64%
Increased overall company morale 60%
Increased overall company productivity 56%
Improved interactions with customers 44%
Increased workplace safety 44%
Increased overall company attendance 38%
Increased profitability 30%
Increased customer base 17%
Finding #5: Employers find JAN helpful during the accommodation process.
Ninety-eight percent of employers found that JAN understood their needs. In addition, 93% of employers stated that the information JAN sent them met their needs. Overall 99% of employers stated they would use JAN again.
Situations and Solutions
Data from the past year provide insight into successful situations and solutions from various employment settings and stages, including a wide sampling of industries and business sizes.
Situation: A claims processing clerk with food allergies had difficulty breathing when co-workers cooked food in the microwave. She suggested a private office with a window or telework as possible accommodations. Her employer had concerns about co-worker morale and maintaining the confidentiality of records.
Solution: The employer opted to implement a policy that the microwave in the employee’s work area could not be used to cook food.
Reported benefit: By making this accommodation the employer accommodated a valuable employee without jeopardizing morale and confidentiality.
Reported cost: $0.
Situation: A librarian had an intestinal disorder that was exacerbated by stress. The individual requested that her dog be allowed to accompany her at work.
Solution: As a reasonable accommodation, the agency allowed the individual to bring a comfort/service dog.
Reported benefit: The employer was very, very happy, and the employee was able to increase production and give services to the public while educating them and co-workers.
Reported cost: $0.
Situation: A warehouse worker who was responsible for moving and lifting materials had limitations due to chronic pain.
Solution: As a reasonable accommodation, the employer provided a material lift.
Reported benefit: The employer stated that the company was able to retain the employee and it showed goodwill to other employees should a similar situation arise with them.
Reported cost: $600.
Situation: A teacher for a postsecondary institution had vision loss due glaucoma. She was having difficulty navigating around corners and being able to efficiently enter grades.
Solution: As a reasonable accommodation, the employer purchased a tablet computer for school purposes that was used to enlarge the computer system grid for inputting grades. A mirror was also strategically placed in the middle of the classroom to assist with her peripheral vision.
Reported benefit: The employer was able to meet its requirements and the individual felt more competent at work.
Reported cost: $1,000.
Situation: A computer programmer with carpal tunnel syndrome had difficulty working at full productivity for long periods.
Solution: As a reasonable accommodation, the employer purchased touch screen and speech recognition software for the computer.
Reported benefit: The employee was very happy with the accommodations, stating that they reduced his symptoms. The employer remarked that by making these accommodations the employee was more productive.
Reported cost: $1,800.
To cite: Job Accommodation Network (Original 2005, Updated 2007, Updated 2009, Updated 2010, Updated 2011, Updated 2012, Updated 2013). Workplace accommodations: Low cost, high impact. Retrieved xxxx xx,xxxx, from http://AskJAN.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html
Reproduced from http://askjan.org/media/LowCostHighImpact.html