John Daly is an American golf pro who’s become famous (or infamous, depending on your point-of-view) for a few signature traits: his long driving distance from the tee, sweeping backswing, controversial behavior, unconventional attitude, and a stunning 1991 “zero-to-hero” tournament championship. Most recently, Daly has made the news again—not for his antics or exploits, but because he withdrew from the British Open after being denied permission to use a golf cart. Daly’s request, as he clarified it, had little to do with laziness or a sense of entitlement. He suffers from health conditions that prevent him from walking the course. So what does this have to do with staffing or issues related to the workforce? Well, the debate calls to mind the sometimes foggy situation surrounding accommodations for disabled workers.
Accommodating Success through Inclusion
The Denver Post, citing an Associated Press story, explained the circumstances at play in Daly’s conflict with the PGA:
Daly has been dealing with arthritis in his knee, and he says he also was diagnosed as diabetic. That led him to request a cart for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which the PGA of America approved after Daly submitted the required medical information.
The R&A rejected his request for a cart over the weekend, saying it felt walking was an integral part of the tournament. “We must also ensure, as far as possible, the challenge is the same for all players in the field,” it said.
The PGA’s contention is that the physical strain of walking factors into the challenge of golf. But if Daly is already experiencing fatigue, discomfort, and limitations in mobility from his existing conditions, one could argue that the playing field has already been leveled. Accommodations allow disabled talent to compete on the same front as their peers. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also gives the PGA some leverage here. For instance, the act does not require employers to provide personal devices (such as golf carts) or “lower production standards applied to all employees.” It’s an interesting pickle.
At the end of the day, diversity programs exist to benefit workers and employers. This is precisely why accommodations are sometimes necessary. While a few employers balk at mandates to implement accessibility standards in their organizations, usually pointing out the costs, the benefits largely outweigh the relatively trivial effort that goes into accommodations.
Think of it this way, would a big tech company turn down an opportunity to employ Stephen Hawking? Would a record label refuse to sign Andrea Bocelli, a famous tenor who’s sold 75 million records worldwide, because he is blind? Then there’s Alex Zanari, a Formula 1 driver who lost both legs to a crash. He went on to win four World Touring Car Championship victories as a result of accommodations. Each of these individuals would require some minor level of logistical support to do their jobs. But the revenues their employers earn from their output far outshine the costs of accommodations.
As Monster pointed out, tech companies are beginning to seize on the opportunities that come with hiring workers with an autism spectrum disorder: “An estimated 1% of the world’s population has an autism spectrum disorder, but approximately 80% of people in this group are unemployed. Others are doing menial jobs far below their skill and testing level.”
Despite some challenges with socialization and interpersonal small talk, most of these individuals possess high intelligence and enjoy jobs that others find repetitive. They possess the acumen and prowess for exceptional data analysis, programming, IT skills, and tasks that demand careful attention to detail. They further demonstrate an intense commitment to high quality work and an aptitude for out-of-the-box thinking.
And, Monster noted, “A number of companies in the tech industry are making efforts to change these conditions by implementing programs that not only recruit people on the autism spectrum, but also provide the necessary support during their employment.” Those companies include Microsoft, SAP, Ernst and Young, CVS, and Ford.
The benefits of a diverse workforce are well established. Integrated and inclusive company cultures foster innovation through thought diversity, high morale, a congress of unique and varied perspectives, and profitable marketing insights for consumer groups that mirror an organization’s diverse talent populations.
Offsetting the costs of simple accommodations usually occurs organically through sales growth. However, the government also rewards these initiatives with Work Opportunity Tax Credits. The program offers tax incentives with caps ranging from $1,200 to $9,600, depending on the employee and the length of employment. The credit is available to employers for hiring individuals from certain target groups that struggle to overcome the obstacles of gaining employment.
The Not-So-High Cost of Accommodations
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires most public and private employers to provide reasonable accommodations that enable qualified people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs. However, the act explicitly stipulates that “reasonable” means the accommodations don’t expose employers to “undue financial hardship.” Virginia Commonwealth University has an excellent fact sheet that covers all the basics of the ADA.
So what are reasonable accommodations, according to the ADA? They include items such as the following.
- Restructuring of existing facilities
- Restructuring of the job
- Modification to work schedules
- Modification of equipment
- Installation of new equipment
- Provision of qualified readers and interpreters
- Modification of application and examination procedures and training materials
- Flexible personal leave policies
Although some of the criteria may come across as financially daunting, the real-world costs are often minimal.
- 50% of accommodations cost less than $500
- 19% cost nothing at all
- More than 80% cost less than $1,000
The provisions of the ADA strive to strike a balance between creating an equitable and productive work environment without hindering the organization’s ability to perform. In that manner, there are actions that employers don’t have to take.
- Eliminating a primary job responsibility
- Lowering production standards that are applied to all employees
- Providing personal use items, such as prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.
- Demanding anything that would be considered an undue hardship to the employer
- Excusing a violation of a uniformly applied conduct rule that is job-related and consistent with business necessity (e.g., an employer never has to tolerate or excuse violence, threats of violence, stealing, or destruction of property)
How Staffing Providers Can Help with Accommodations
Staffing suppliers already play an instrumental role in helping clients and MSPs bolster their diversity hiring initiatives and maintain compliance with prevailing labor standards. When accommodations become necessary, communication between all stakeholders is imperative. New program implementations, supplier enrollment periods, and transition processes provide staffing firms with prime opportunities to address accommodations in advance. For incumbent programs, staffing providers and MSPs should take the time to host a new discovery session that identifies possible accommodation needs or requests prior to onboarding those workers.
Recommendations for accommodations should be clear, reasonable, timely, and involve all program stakeholders.
- Typical accommodations include ADA-compliant building access points and disabled-friendly restrooms, break rooms, water fountains, parking spaces and transportation support, emergency exits, and more.
- They may also require activating the accessibility features included with most computer operating systems.
- Eliminating potential hazards is already a standard safety practice, but additional evaluations may need to take place to eliminate less obvious obstacles that could hinder workers and their co-workers.
Staffing professionals can prevent problems upfront by helping clients address accessibility issues with work spaces, the tools and technologies in place, information distribution processes, training approaches, and office resources.
Empowerment, Not Entitlement
Working with diverse talent makes for more innovative, more innovative, and more cohesive employment cultures. Industries across the business landscape continue to struggle with unfilled job openings, skills shortages, a candidate-controlled market, and the new reality of regular attrition arising from job hopping. But a vast ocean of capable and qualified workers surrounds us, even though these candidates too often remain on the periphery of consideration. As companies like Microsoft have discovered, this talent offers unparalleled advantages for those willing to seize the opportunities and accommodate their unique basic needs.