Employees often refrain from disclosing disabilities

BY Eytan Hirsch

Employees with nonvisible disabilities often wonder whether to disclose their condition when applying for a job or working for an organization, because they fear negative repercussions will arise if they do so.

Yet people with disabilities are the largest and fastest growing minority group in the world, representing more than 750 million individuals, according to a recent webinar. In the United States, there are more than 54 million people with disabilities. However, people with disabilities are employed at less than half the rate of their nondisabled counterparts.

A number of factors, including people with disabilities’ own fears about applying for jobs, workplaces that are unsupportive or unaccommodating for people with disabilities and workplace harassment and bullying, are preventing many of these people from finding employment.

In a webinar titled “Strategies for Increasing Self-Identification for Candidates and Employees with Disabilities,” experts discussed various ways to create work environments that allow applicants and employees to disclose their disabilities.

The webinar, conducted by the Employer Assistance and Research Network (EARN), included two speakers who provided insights into ways organizations can accurately represent their workforce composition and consider various methods for accommodating employees with disabilities.

The first, Martha Artiles, served as the global chief diversity officer at ManpowerGroup. She focused on various strategies organizations can use to create a climate in which people are willing to disclose more about themselves. “Employees need to be truly engaged at all levels of the organization and truly believe in what they are doing and what the company is doing,” she said.

According to a study conducted by Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), released in December 2011, potential employees are more inclined to express interest in organizations with an inclusive workplace culture.

Artiles explained that an inclusive culture should:

• Engage employees at all levels.

• Employ leaders who set a clear purpose, values and accepted behaviors.

• Eliminate employees who do not demonstrate the desired behaviors.

• Revisit core values periodically to make sure they are still relevant.

• Educate employees and hold them accountable at all levels.

Organizations that achieve these outcomes are likely to become known as best places to work among prospective employees, Artiles said. In addition, such practices can increase retention and loyalty of employees and customers. 

Deciding whether to disclose the disability

Of the 598 respondents with disabilities surveyed by Cornell and AAPD, 68% said the “need for accommodation” is a very important factor when deciding whether to disclose a disability to an employer. Other popular responses included a “supportive supervisor relationship” (64%) and a “disability-friendly workplace” (57%).

These results further Artiles’ view that an accommodating workplace environment is essential for employees to be willing to disclose their disabilities. But this is not only important for employees, the study found. It is crucial for employers to be aware of ways in which accommodations can improve employee productivity and improve the reputation and sustainability of their business.

According to the webinar, organizations should create environments that encourage disclosure by:

• Targeting people with disabilities for employment.

• Conducting disability awareness training for staff.

• Enacting flexible workplace policies.

• Having fair systems to address complaints.

• Creating accessible workplaces.

• Fostering supportive supervisor-staff relationships.

• Including disability in the diversity statement.

In addition, Cornell/AAPD survey respondents listed very important factors when deciding not to disclose a disability to an employer. “Risk of being hired/not fired” was the most common response with 73%, followed by “employer may focus on disability” (62%), the “risk of losing health care” (62%), and “fear of limited opportunities” (61%).

What employers need to do

The second webinar speaker, Alicia Wallace, equal employment opportunity program consultant and disability outreach manager for WellPoint Inc., agreed with many of the suggestions noted by Artiles. She said employers should focus on:

• Recruiting and hiring people with disabilities.

• Working with internal employee networking groups which support disability initiatives.

• Mentoring opportunities.

• Portraying people with disabilities in a positive light.

• Offering workplace flexibility.

• Looking into the process for accommodations.

• Educating associates about disabilities.

• Sponsorships with disability-focused organizations.

Wallace suggested that employers avoid treating employees with disabilities differently than other employees, specifically with regard to interpersonal interactions, opportunities for advancement, hiring, termination and performance reviews.

People want to feel like they are joining an organization because of their skills and abilities, she said, which is why employers should integrate diversity into their workplace culture seamlessly, rather than making it an obvious issue.

Eytan Hirsch is a staff writer for SHRM.

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Small business optimism dips, report says

BY Brae Canlen

After slow but steady improvement over the first half of this year, small business optimism soured considerably in June, according to a July 10 report by IHS Global Insight. Small business owners became more downbeat on almost everything in the month, but particularly, their outlook on the economy and earnings potential worsened significantly.

It appears small businesses are trying to make do with their current resources, the report said. They have run down inventories to better meet their lowered sales expectations; the net percentage of owners reporting stocks too low was unchanged in the month. Additionally, small businesses are asking more out of their existing employees or hiring temporary workers. The net percentage of respondents planning to increase their full-time work force fell to 3 points — its lowest level since October.

“It is clear from this report that small business owners are not expecting to do much additional capital spending, hiring or expanding in the next three months,” said IHS senior economist Leslie Levesque, who provided the analysis. “A more positive outlook on credit conditions does not mean much in this type of environment. Small businesses will not increase spending or their labor force until they see demand pick up, feel less uncertain on policy issues and do not feel so over-regulated." 

Some other highlights from the NFIS Small Business Optimism Index:

• The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index fell 3 points to 91.4 in June.

• This was the steepest decline since June 2010, erasing all gains posted this year. The index is now at its lowest level since October 2011.

• Just one of the index’s 10 categories improved: expected credit conditions.

• Much of the increased pessimism amongst small business owners in June stemmed from expectations of the economy and earnings trends.


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To what extent will your office be impacted by March Madness, which tips off this week?

Industry Dashboard for July 16, 2012


Consumer Confidence slipped and the unemployment rate held at 8.2% on the Consumer Watch area of the Dashboard. Weyerhaeuser, Beacon and Fastenal led the monthly gainers on the stock roundup. 


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To what extent will your office be impacted by March Madness, which tips off this week?