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Employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability

Joseph Graffama,, Kaye Smitha, Alison Shinkfieldb and Udo Polzina
Institute of Disability Studies, Deakin University, Burwood, Vic, Australia
School of Psychology, Deakin University, Burwood, Vic, Australia

Abstract. This paper derives from a national study of employer outcomes when employing a person  with a disability. Questionnaires were completed by 643 Australian employers who had employed a  person with a disability. Individual performance was considered by comparison of the employee with  a disability and the “average” employee. The “average” employee was rated significantly better on  productivity variables, and employees with a disability were rated somewhat, but not significantly, better on reliability variables and employee maintenance variables. Organization performance was  considered in terms of benefits and costs of workplace modifications and changes to staff training  and supervision. In each domain, employers identified more organization benefits than costs, a  large majority considering the financial effect of modifications and changes cost-neutral, with financial benefit more common than net cost. Employers reported short-term, but no long-term or  broader benefits from employer subsidies and/or incentives. The need to take a broad, “big picture”  view to understand cost effectiveness is discussed.

Keywords: Cost benefit analysis, disability, employing a person with a disability

1. Introduction
Benefits and costs experienced by employers when employing a person with a disability have received very little attention by researchers thus far. Most of the work that has been done focuses on cost effectiveness, cost of accommodations and adjustments, or employer
subsidies and incentives.

Very few cost effectiveness studies have been conducted. Crow [5] reported results of a 1987 Harris Poll of 900 managers. In reference to attendance and punctuality, 40% of managers rated employees  with a disability as better than and another 40% rated them the same as their non-disabled  co-workers. In addition, 75% reported that the cost of employing someone with a disability was the  same as that for a non-disabled person. In a job performance survey employer/trainers reported that the workers with a learning disability outperformed their peers without a learning  disability in punctuality, attendance at work, and ability to accept constructive criticism or  redirection. Six behavioral conditions were considered more problematic for workers with a learning disability. Those included insecurity about role, low self-esteem, memory problems,  distractibility, inability to transfer learning, and inability to follow directions [15].

In another study [19] employers rated attendance, punctuality, and willingness to work hard as the  most important aspects of a job, while leadership and ability to handle work were rated least  important. Employees with an intellectual disability rated high in the three most important  aspects. They were rated as performing significantly better than expected for the job in work safety, reliability, motivation, bearing responsibilities, willingness to work hard, honesty, and  speed. They were rated below expectation in appearance, transportation to work, experience, and  personality, and equal to expectation in education. Employees with an intellectual disability  received an average of 30% less income for performing the same jobs as employees without a disability.

Samorodov [16] has suggested employers may assume that employing a person with a disability will  result in higher costs due to loss of productivity and additional costs required in accommodating  the disability. He has also suggested that the fact that very few cost effectiveness studies have  been undertaken supports the view that factors other than cost also impact on employers’ decisions  to hire, and that cost effectiveness studies can give misleading results if a short term  perspective only is taken. In any case, cost effectiveness studies that have been conducted have  focused on either employee performance, the effects of workplace accommodations and adjustments, or  incentives and subsidies.

Costs of workplace accommodations have also been investigated. Samorodov [16] argued that costs for workplace modifications were not high. He cited 906 pounds as the average cost in the United  Kingdom for equipment granted under the Special Aids to Employment Scheme. The European Trade Union  Committee [7] reported that half the accommodations resulting from the Americans with Disabilities  Act cost employers less than US$500. Lower costs have been anonymously reported [1] by citing  evidence from surveys conducted by the Job Accommodation Network in 1994 in which just over half  the accommodations made by employers cost a maximum of US$200 with over two thirds costing no more  than US$500. This investigator also reported that almost a third of employers considered that accommodations had benefited them more than US$15,000.

The Job Accommodation Network reported that in 1994 the majority of workplace accommodations cost less than US$500, with the median cost being US$250. Of employers asked to assign a dollar value to  the savings resulting from accommodations,38% reported $1–$5,000, 33% reported $5,000–$20,000, 25%  reported $20,000–$200,000, and 3% reported no discernible value. The median benefit was $29 for  every $1 spent on accommodations [4]. There are, however, no figures available for comparison on
the Australian experience to date.
Financial incentives to the employer in the form of subsidies have been shown to have little impact on an employer’s decision to employ a person with a disability [13]. Factors such as an ability to perform the job and a low risk of absenteeism are more powerful determinants for employers than  financial incentives [6,21]. The Vocational Rehabilitation Branch – ILO [21] advocated subsidies  that emphasize training and integration rather than rewarding employers for “good will”. Trach,  Beatty, and Shelden [18] indicated that employers who had employed people with a disability not only reported a willingness to provide supports, but did not discriminate between the supports  provided to staff with and without a disability. These authors suggested that service providers  should focus on benefits to the employer of employing a particular worker rather than emphasizing
financial incentives.

The present study investigated employer benefits and costs associated with employing a person with  a disability. Unlike earlier studies that have tended to focus purely on individual performance,  this study also looked at the impact of the employee with a disability on organization performance.  Individual performance was considered by comparing productivity ratings speed/rate  an duality/accuracy), reliability ratings (attendance and sick leave records), and employee maintenance costs (recruitment, occupational health and safety, compensation, and insurance costs)  of the employee with a disability with those of the “average employee”. Organization performance  was considered in terms of reported benefits and costs associated with workplace modifications and  changes to general staff training and supervision resulting from employing the person with a  disability. The employer-reported value of employer subsidies and/or incentives was also  investigated.

2. Method

2.1. Participants

A total of 643 Australian employers participated in the study, all having employed a person with a  disability through a funded disability employment service during the preceding three years.  Participants presented a mixture of major metropolitan (43.8%), regional centre (29.1%), rural  (19.0%), and multiple (8.1%) locations across all states and territories. Approximately three-quarters were from very small or small organizations (0–49 employees), with approximately 15% from medium sized organizations (50–199 employees) and 10% from either large or very large  organizations (200+ employees). Industry distribution was broad with manufacturing (16.7%), health  and community services (14.5%), hospitality (14.0%), and trade/sales (13.6%) most prevalent. The  size and industry spreads are very typical of Australian organizations in general. The gender split was 58% male respondents and 42% female respondents. The age distribution of respondents was 18–30 years (9.2%), 31–40 years (30.8%), 41–50 years (36.8%) and 51+ years (23.2%).

2.2. Instrument

The 7-page questionnaire was developed in consultation with representatives from disability employment services, national and state chambers of commerce and industry, disability self-advocacy organizations, and the Commonwealth government. Definition and selection of variables for measurement, as well as methods of measurement, resulted from this consultation process. Separate sections addressed: characteristics of the employer organization and respondent; factors that can impact on decisions to hire and retain a person with a disability; characteristics of the employment conditions of a referent employee with a disability; impact of the employee with a disability on the workplace; benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability and other employees; and summary questions. Results reported in this paper relate to the benefits and costs of employing the person with a disability in terms of individual and organization performance.

In the benefits and costs section, employers were asked to specify by employer records or estimates: the number of occupational health and safety incidents and accrued costs; the number of worker compensation incidents and accrued costs; accrued “other insurance” costs; accrued unexpected costs and benefits; number of days absent and accrued cost of absenteeism and sick leave; speed/rate and accuracy/quality of work; and accrued cost of recruitment. Comparisons between the employee with a disability and the average employee were included.

Employers were also asked to identify whether there were any benefits or costs resulting from employing a person with a disability in terms of work place modifications, training, and supervision. Possible benefits and costs were related to productivity, profits, staff skills, staff practices, work practices, staff relations, customer relations, and “other”. Employers were also asked to judge the overall financial effect of employing a person with a disability as beneficial, neutral, or a cost. An additional aspect of potential benefits and costs to employers relates to receipt of subsidies and/or incentives. In this study, employers were asked two questions, one relating to their use of financial subsidies and/or incentives, and one concerning the relative importance of financial subsidies and/or incentives in decisions on employing a person with a disability.

2.3. Procedure

Employer lists were solicited from all funded disability employment services throughout Australia. Lists were received from 127 of the 291 funded employment services. This is an agency participation rate of 43%.Questionnaires were sent to all employers who had employed a person through those agencies between 1996 and 1998. The response rate was 12.5%. Representative ness of the sample was tested in relation to a national database of employment for people with a disability over the preceding 12 quarters. Thirteen variables were tested. The sample was within one standard deviation (SD) for 5 of the 8 states/territories in Australia, “permanent regular” employment, “percent of employees earning less than $200 per fortnight”, and “intellectual/learning disability” and within two SDs for one state and “psychiatric disability”. With respect to two states and gender, the sample was not representative of the national database.

2.4. Analysis

Results were analyzed in terms of whole group responses and in terms of within-group and between group differences. Frequencies, means, standard deviations, independent t-tests, and analyses of variance were the main data analytic techniques. Where appropriate, post-hoc Tukey tests were performed as well. Because of the sample sizes involved in most of the analyses, a confidence level of p < 0.01 was adopted for consideration of statistical significance.

3. Results

3.1. Benefits and costs associated with individual performance

Table 1 presents results of analyses of benefits and costs in terms of individual performance of the referent employee with a disability compared with the performance of an “average” employee. Ten individual performance variables were included. Two related to productivity (speed/rate and accuracy/quality), two related to reliability (days absent and cost of sick leave), and six related to employee maintenance (recruitment, occupational health and safety, worker compensation and insurance costs). For each item a mean value is provided based on employer records and estimated values.

Table 1

Individual performance: Mean records and estimates of productivity, reliability

and employee maintenance costs of employing the person with a disability and the

average employee

Type of benefit or cost Employee with a "Average" employee
  Record Estimate Record Estimate
Speed/Rate of work 1.93 1.97 2.67 2.51
Accuracy/Quality of work 2.11 2.14 2.69 2.54
No. of days absent 8.31 12.15 9.71 9.94
Accrued cost/absent sick leave $408 $988 $881 $1384
Employee maintenance        
Cost of recruitment $141 $377 $1079 $1336
No. of OHS incidents 0.37 1.03 2.24 2.28
Accrued OHS costs $64 $164 $180 $2323
No. of Comp incidents 0.20 0.28 0.81 1.77
Accrued Comp costs $82 $1318 $1564 $4250
Accrued other insurance costs $40 $411 $826 $1193



Analyses of variance were conducted to examine within-group differences between record and estimate based responses. Only two significant differences emerged between record and estimate values for there referent employee with a disability. First, a significant difference was found between the record and estimate values for accrued other insurance costs over employment,
F(1, 75) = 13.85, p < 0.001, with estimate values being significantly higher (M = $411) than for
record-based values (M = $40). Second, there was a significant difference between the record and estimate values for accrued costs associated with workers compensation claims over employment, F(1, 42) = 7.29,p < 0.01, with estimate values being significantly higher (M = $1318) than for record-based values (M = $82). Clearly, employer estimates of these tangible costs of employing a person with a disability were higher than actual (recorded) costs. There were no significant differences, however, between record and estimate values for the “average” employee.

Record-based values were examined further because they were considered more inherently reliable, and because of the lack of significant difference between record and estimate-based values. Only with respect to speed/rate of work and accuracy/quality of work did results favor average employees. With respect to these two variables, “average” employees were rated higher
than employees with a disability. However, the average ratings for employees with a disability were very near the mid-point descriptor “medium” for both variables.

With respect to reliability factors, employees with a disability had approximately 62% of the absent days of average employees. Their accrued costs of absent/sick leave were 34% that of average employees. Employee maintenance costs were also lower for employees with a disability. The cost of recruiting employees with a disability was 13% that of average employees. They averaged approximately 12% of the recorded occupational health and safety incidents of average employees and 26% of the dollar cost. They averaged approximately18% of the recorded worker compensation incidents of average employees and 4% of the dollar cost. Other insurance costs were also 4% of the dollar amount reported for average employees.

Independent t-tests were conducted to identify any statistically significant differences between record based responses for employees with a disability and average employees for each of the variables. Results revealed two significant differences: one referring to speed/rate of work, t(34) = 4.15, p < 0.001, with average employees rated higher for speed/rate of work (M = 2.63) than employees with a disability (M = 1.97); and one referring to accuracy/quality of work,
t(34) = 4.58, p < 0.001, with average employees rated higher for accuracy/quality of work (M = 2.69) than employees with a disability (M = 2.09).

3.2. General organization performance

Organization benefits and costs associated with workplace modifications and changes to staff training and staff supervision that occur with the employment of a person with a disability were investigated. The financial effects of those modifications and changes were also investigated. Table 2 presents the results in terms of the frequency of reported benefits and costs related to those changes. The effects of those changes on organization productivity, profits, staff skills, staff practices, general work practices, staff relations and customer relations are reported.

Employers made a total of 3,511 benefit and cost reports, 2,464 (70.2%) reported benefits and 1,047(29.8%) reported costs. In rating the financial effects associated with workplace modifications, training, and supervision, cost neutral outcomes were reported most often. Of 2,024 responses referring to financial effects, 65.0% rated the financial effect to be cost neutral, with 20.0% identifying an overall financial benefit and 15.0% identifying an overall financial cost.

There were more benefits than costs reported for six of the seven aspects of organization performance: productivity (822 reports, 61.3% reporting benefits); staff skills (519 reports, 82.9% reporting benefits); staff practices (450 reports, 75.1% reporting benefits); general work practices (635 reports, 73.2% reporting benefits); staff relations (517 reports, 78.7% reporting benefits); and customer relations (253 reports, 72.3% reporting benefits. Only in relation to profits were there more costs than benefits reported (257 reports, 40.9% reporting benefits). This seems inconsistent with the otherwise high percentage of reported benefits. It may result from a narrow consideration of “profit” or from consideration of simple monetary cost when considering
effects on profit of implemented modifications and changes. 

The greatest number of reported benefits and costs was in relation to training (N = 1541). There were 1162 (75.4%) benefit reports and 379 (24.6%) cost reports. A majority (471 = 62.1%) reported the financial effect resulting from changes to training to be cost neutral. However, a substantial number reported a financial benefit (189 = 24.9%) and only 98 (12.9%) reported an overall cost. The second greatest number of reported benefits and costs was in relation to staff supervision (N = 1098). There were 766 (69.8%) benefit reports, while 332 (30.2%) were cost reports. A majority (302 = 55.9%) reported the financial effect resulting from changes to supervision to be cost neutral, with somewhat fewer reporting either a financial benefit (124 = 23.0%) or cost (114 = 21.1%). The least number of reported benefits and costs was in relation to workplace modifications (N = 872). There were 536 (61.5%) benefit reports and 336 (38.5%) cost reports. A large majority (542 = 74.7%) reported the financial effect of workplace modifications to be cost neutral, with fewer reporting either a financial benefit or cost (92 = 12.7% each).

Analyses of variance on the number of reported benefits and costs in the areas of workplace modifications, training, and supervision were conducted for a number of employer variables including the age, gender, education level and disability type of the referent employee, and the employer participant’s job role, size of organization, and organization location. There were no significant main effects for referent employee variables. There was one significant main effect for employer age for costs associated with workplace modifications, F(3, 123) = 3.85, p < 0.01. Post-hoc Tukey tests (p < 0.05) subsequently showed that respondents aged 31–40 years reported significantly fewer workplace modification costs (M = 2.14) than those aged 51 years and over (M = 3.55).


Table 2  Total number of employer reports for benefits and costs of workplace modifications and changes to staff training and supervision, together with estimated financial effects

Effects Modifications Staff training Staff supervision Total  
  Benefit Cost Benefit Cost Benefit Cost Benefit Cost
Productivity 113 80 231 123 160 115 504 318
Profits 20 53 50 53 35 46 105 152
Staff skills 78 25 216 36 136 28 430 89
Staff practices 71 43 162 37 105 32 338 112
Work practices 114 67 209 52 142 51 465 170
Staff relations 79 34 204 44 124 32 407 110
Customer relat’ns 50 23 80 26 53 21 183 70
Other 11 11 10 8 11 7 32 26
TOTAL 536 336 1162 379 766 332 2464 1047
  Ben Ntrl Cst Ben Ntrl Cst Ben Ntrl Cst Ben Ntrl Cst
Financial effect 92 542 92 189 471 98 124 302 114 405 1315 304

3.3. Employer subsidies and incentives

When asked whether they had used financial subsidies and/or  incentives, 546 employers responded: 59%responded ‘yes’, 39% responded ‘no’, and 2% were unsure.  When asked if financial subsidies and/or incentives were important in their decision to employ the  person with a disability, 375 employers responded: 51% responded ‘yes’, 44% responded ‘no’ and 5%  were undecided.

Receipt of subsidies and/or incentives was investigated in relation to working conditions of  employees with a disability, employer decision-making, rated impact of the employee on the work  environment, and identified benefits and costs. There was a significant main effect for use of  financial incentives for length of time in position,F(1, 478) = 9.37,p < 0.01. Employers using financial incentives reported employees with significantly shorter time in their position (M  = 20.11 months) than those not using incentives (M = 27.04 months). With respect to employer decision-making, there was a significant main effect related to influence of cost factors in  decision-making, F(2, 595) = 11.08, p < 0.001. Cost factors were rated as significantly more important by employers using financial incentives (M = 3.20) than for those who did not (M =  2.92). There was a significant main effect related to employee impact on the work environment, F(1,  575) = 9.34, p < 0.01. The employee’s impact on the work environment was rated significantly better  by employers who did not use financial incentives (M = 4.06) than by those who did (M = 3.90).
There was no significant main effect related to any of the benefit/cost factors.

4. Discussion

Previous to this study, there has not been a large scale study of benefits and costs to employers of  employing a person with a disability, other than one general analysis of disability costs to  industry/business in the US [14] and a small number of studies that investigated costs of workplace accommodations. This study has identified benefit advantages related to  individual employee performance and general organization performance associated with employing a  person with a disability.

The most basic consideration of employer benefits and costs is in terms of individual performance.  Although more variable, the performance of employees with a disability as a groupwas in certain  respects comparable to that of “average” (non-disabled) employees. In general, employees with a disability were rated lower than average employees on productivity factors (speed and accuracy) and better than average employees on reliability factors (attendance and sick leave) and employee  maintenance factors (recruitment, safety, insurance costs). However, productivity was found to be statistically significantly lower, while reliability and employee maintenance costs, although  better than the average employee, were not statistically significantly better. The outcome for an  employer is generally a reasonably productive, reliable employee who costs marginally less to
maintain in employment. Employee maintenance costs have not been included in previous studies. Results reported here, although not statistically significant, consistently favoured the employees with a disability, suggesting the importance of considering such effects in future studies of  benefits and costs to employers.

In addition to consideration of individual performance, the impact of employing a person with a  disability on organization performance was also considered. In this study, workplace modifications and changes to staff training and supervision were each reported, by employers, to result in  benefit advantages to productivity, staff skills and practices, and workplace and customer relations. Indeed, 70% of more than 3,500 reports referring to those aspects of organization performance were benefit reports. Financial effects were most frequently reported as cost neutral,  with more financial benefits than costs reported. Previous studies of workplace accommodations suggest that approximately half of all employees with a disability require no accommodations, and most accommodations are inexpensive [1,7]. Workplace accommodations have also been shown to produce  significant financial benefits to the employer [4].

Results of this study indicate cost neutral effects for most workplace accommodations, with
financial benefits outnumbering costs. There was a clear performance benefit advantage resulting from workplace modifications and changes to staff training and supervision associated with all aspects of organization performance except profit. These results suggest that employers have experienced material and non-material benefits to their organizations from employing a person  with a disability, with those benefits being financially cost neutral or cost beneficial in a large  proportion of cases. There are at least three possible reasons for the widespread reporting by  employers of such significant benefit advantages to the organization as a whole. Integrating an employee with a disability into a work environment may raise awareness of previously less than optimal conditions in that work environment including training and supervisory practices, basic  work practices, and health and safety issues. This heightened awareness may lead to improved  practices by workplace trainers, supervisors, health and safety representatives, and all employees. Another possible reason for the generally positive reported effect that an  employee with a disability has had on overall organization performance relates to improved  co-worker and customer relations. Improved relations may contribute to improved performance within  the work group or organization as a whole, since high morale has often been associated with high performance within organizations. A third possible explanation is that the individual  performance of an employee with a disability, in terms of reliability and productivity measures, especially those who are average or above average performers, may raise expectations and standards for performance for all employees, thereby improving work group or organization  performance. In any case, an employee with a disability can be seen as a catalyst for positive  change, a catalyst for improved organization performance. 

Research on financial incentives to the employer has found that subsidies have little impact on an employer’s decision to employ a person with a disability [13]. Factors such as ability to perform  the job and a low risk of absenteeism are more powerful determinants for employers than financial  incentives [6,21]. This study likewise found that, although more than half of employers had received a subsidy and/or incentive, receipt of a subsidy and/or incentive was associated with  somewhat poorer employee working conditions and resulted in no difference to benefit-cost outcome.

When considering benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability, an additional
consideration is that the costs of employing a person with a disability are not constant over time. Initial costs such as modifications to the workplace, specialized equipment and training can give  a skewed indication of the costs involved, as these tend to be one-off costs. It is important to not only consider the impact of costs in relation to other factors such as job retention, lower maintenance costs (occupational health and safety, worker compensation, etc), and any further  potential advantages to staff and customers resulting from accommodations and adjustments. In  considering costs related to the employment of people with a disability, it should also be kept in  mind that certain costs are associated with the employment of any new employee.

Results of this study show that employer outcomes associated with employing a person with a  disability provide examples of positive effects, particularly in organization performance, of  employing a person whose “difference” is in some way apparent. It provides some evidence of  employers acknowledging and accepting diversity in the workplace/organization. The managing diversity approach [2,3,8,10,11,17] involves flexibility and accommodation to individual  differences in accomplishing workplace and organization objectives. This approach recognizes,  accepts, and values diversity among workers, and indeed values diversity as a source of organization development. This is relevant to employers who employ a person with a disability because with such an approach to management, the person is no longer an extra-ordinary or special  case, but simply part of a natural diversity within the workplace. Employers who employ a person
with a disability are demonstrating at least implicit commitment to the managing diversity approach  described in the literature. In doing so, they are in the forefront of emerging management practices. On a practical level, as described above, these employers are already experiencing  benefits of this approach to managing a workforce.

Other potential benefit outcomes for employers when employing a person with a disability relate to  community values and compliance with the law. Internationally, there is a strong and prolonged trend away from  considering employment for people with a disability as a welfare issue toward treating it as an equal opportunity and human rights issue. The United Nations, the International  Labor Organization, and several employer bodies have endorsed employment as an equal opportunity  issue for people with a disability. Australia is among many nations that have passed equal opportunity legislation with direct reference to employment for people with a disability. Australia is also a signatory of several international covenants and rules endorsing equal opportunity in employment for people with a disability.

Many benefits resulting from the employment of a person with a disability are intangible and not  easily quantifiable. Examples of intangible benefits for the new employee include improved  self-esteem, self affirmation, social contact, and personal satisfaction, as well as a shift from  being the recipient of services to a provider of services. The availability of a wider range of workers for an employer, improved equity in the workplace, various outcomes for a society that  supports equality of opportunity, and the changes in societal attitudes that result from the  inclusion of people with a disability in labor market activities are additional intangible benefits. The value of these benefits to society, although not easily quantifiable, is  none-the-less very important.

Whenever considering employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability, it is important to take into account more than the productivity and reliability of the individual employee, which is generally good. It is also important to take into account more than the effects  on workplace conditions, staff training, and supervision, which are typically quite positive. It is important to take into account the “big picture”, the importance of increasing workplace  diversity to continuing organization development, the importance of compliance with the law and  community standards, and the importance to good business of relationships within the organization and the community.


We would like to thank the Australian Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services for funding this project and for providing advice and other support during its conduct. References

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