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Accommodation Practices Highlighted in SHRM/Cornell Study
 

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR  5/21/2012

Publicly owned, for-profit entities and companies that employ 25,000 employees or more are most likely to engage in effective practices for accommodating people with disabilities, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in collaboration with the Cornell University ILR School Employment and Disability Institute.

However, a majority of employers from all sectors, industries and sizes engage in the following accommodation practices:

  • Designating an office or person to address accommodation questions (75 percent).
  • Allowing an employee to exceed the maximum duration of medical leave (73 percent).
  • Training supervisors on nondiscrimination and accommodation obligations (73 percent).
  • Making a grievance procedure available to address reasonable accommodation issues (68 percent).
  • Ensuring that pre-employment occupational screenings are unbiased (65 percent).
  • Notifying prospective employees in advance as to the availability of reasonable accommodations for the job application process (63 percent).

The report released May 18, 2012, is the second in a series of three studies focused on people with disabilities. It was fielded Oct. 19-Dec. 15, 2011, and includes responses from 662 HR professionals, selected randomly from SHRM’s membership. Sixty percent of respondents worked for organizations with U.S.-based operations only; the rest of the respondents worked for companies with multinational operations.

Effective Practices for Accessibility, Accommodations

In addition to identifying practices their organizations use, respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of each practice. The most effective practices, according to those who use them, are:

  • Maintaining a centralized accommodation fund to pay for any accommodations that have an associated cost (56 percent said this practice is “very effective;” 27 percent said this practice is “somewhat effective.”)
  • Designating an office or person to address accommodation questions (54 percent, very effective; 28 percent, somewhat effective.)
  • Using a documented decision-making process for providing accommodations on a case-by-case basis (54 percent, very effective; 24 percent, somewhat effective.)

Yet regardless of perceived effectiveness, just 20 percent of organizations have a centralized accommodation fund, and less than half (47 percent) have a formal decision-making process.

The first report in the series, which focused on recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities, found that 61 percent of organizations include disability as a key element in their diversity strategies. Yet the latest research finds that few organizations (30 percent) take steps to ensure that those with visual, hearing, finger dexterity and cognitive impairments can access their organization’s online application system.

Moreover, of those that do conduct a regular accessibility evaluation, more than a quarter (28 percent) did not know if the practice is effective.

Respondents were similarly unsure as to whether providing advance notification to applicants of the availability of accommodations is helpful.

Impact of Organization Type and Size

In most cases, publicly owned, for-profit companies were somewhat more likely than privately owned for-profit companies to engage in the accommodation practices covered by the research. For example, 78 percent of publicly owned firms said that they evaluate their pre-employment occupational screenings to ensure that they are unbiased, compared to 58 percent of privately owned companies. And 65 percent of publicly owned companies have a formal decision-making process for accommodations, compared to just 38 percent of privately owned companies. Increased accountability to shareholders is one motivation to implement effective practices.

In addition, companies with 25,000 employees or more are, perhaps not surprisingly, far more likely than employers with less than 100 employees to engage in certain accommodation and accessibility practices.

For example, of the three most effective practices noted above, the largest organizations were far more likely than the smallest organizations to maintain a centralized accommodation fund (59 percent vs. 9 percent). Similarly, the largest organizations are more likely than the smallest organizations to use a formal decision-making process for accommodations (74 percent vs. 38 percent).

Yet organization size doesn’t matter for every accommodation and accessibility practice. The SHRM/Cornell study found no statistical difference between large and small organizations with regard to several other practices examined.

The research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

Related information can be found on SHRM’s Disability Employment Resource Page.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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