Flexible Work to Accommodate Disabilities More Common at Small Companies

Large employers should try harder to ‘reinvent the way work is done,’ report concludes

By Dana Wilkie Oct 6, 2014
The nation’s smaller employers are more likely than larger ones to offer job flexibility that can accommodate workers with disabilities, including working at home periodically and having control of when to take breaks.

This is among the findings in a national report released Oct. 1, 2014, by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The 2014 National Study of Employers: Including the Talents of Employees with Disabilities surveyed 1,051 employers with 50 or more workers. The survey was conducted between Sept. 13, 2013, and Jan. 31, 2014.

About one in three small employers, considered to be those with 50 to 99 workers, offered workplace flexibility. This flexibility, which can help all workers, and in some cases particularly those with disabilities, was broken down into five types:

  • Working at home occasionally.
  • Having control over when to take breaks.
  • Being able to alter starting and quitting times.
  • Taking time from the workday for family or personal needs without losing pay.
  • Returning to work gradually after childbirth or adoption. 

Only one in five large organizations—those with 1,000 or more workers—offered all five types of flexibility.

Offering flexible work arrangements “can help to fulfill requests for reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the report authors wrote.
The report’s authors noted that large companies should consider “greater efforts to reinvent the way work is done.”

“Employers maintain a number of policies that support the inclusion of all employees,” said Kenneth Matos, FWI’s senior director of research and the report’s lead author. “However, it appears that smaller employers are more likely than large employers to reinvent work for a broad array of employees.”
On the other hand, most employers—84 percent—said they’d allow employees with disabilities to readjust their tasks or assignments.

Two techniques that could help employers better use the talents of workers with disabilities are largely lacking at both small and large companies, the report noted.
One technique is utilizing employee resource groups, which the authors wrote can “provide a collective voice for drawing attention to how the organization can better partner with people with disabilities, both as customers and as employees.”

Only 10 percent of employers had resource groups for workers with similar backgrounds, interests or challenges. Larger organizations were almost three times more likely to have such groups than smaller companies. The report authors noted that while a single small employer might not have enough workers interested in a resource group, coalitions of small companies in a region “could provide the critical mass” to create one.

A second technique is having a formal staffing plan that includes provisions for hiring and retaining those with disabilities. About six in 10 larger organizations had such plans, while about one of every three smaller ones did. However, nearly three in five of all employers surveyed either had no formal plan or had a plan with no special provisions for those with disabilities.

“Organizations with formal staffing plans have proactively considered how they will attract, hire, develop and retain the talent needed to advance their mission,” the authors wrote. “Employers that consider how they attract and include people with disabilities are more likely to recognize and implement workplace policies that enhance the contributions of employees with disabilities.”

​Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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