Typically, when an employee goes to a business owner with an accommodation request, all they really see is the dollar signs. Adding standing desks for an employee with a back injury, a lactation room for a new mom, or updating your computer screens to reduce eye strain are generally all big money endeavors, but can they get you a good return on investment?
According to a survey conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which is an offshoot of the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), workplace accommodations are generally low cost, but can provide a positive impact for the whole office in a number of ways. In the survey, which captures data from a variety of businesses across a number of sectors, 58% of accommodations cost no money at all to implement (such as changes to a job schedule, a company’s corporate dress code, or even a transfer to another location), while the rest of the accommodations typically rang up to around $500. Approximately one-third of the spending on accommodations was a one-time pay-out, while a quarter were “an ongoing, annual cost,” and 9% was a bit of both.
In terms of how the changes were perceived by
those who made the investment, three-quarters of survey respondents noted that
they were very effective or extremely effective. They were asked what direct
benefits they had observed from the changes, the survey respondents primarily
focused on the retention of the employee in question. For most, retaining that
valued employee helped to limit disruption to their business and saved them
money by not having to jump into a replacement job search and training process
(which we all know can prove incredibly costly and time consuming!) In
addition, most respondents indicated that the change had allowed their valued
employee to be even MORE productive in their role.
Asked about indirect benefits, the respondents noted that the changes had helped to promote communication among the affected party and their co-workers, increased overall company productivity and profitability (because again, that one worker can now do their job more effectively, leading to a trickle-down effect), and even boosted company morale as employees saw that their company was willing to work with them to help them be their best-selves.
From a recruiting perspective, you also stand to open up your candidate pool if you’re receptive to fulfilling accommodation requests. It would be nonsensical to decline to hire an individual for a job that they are well-suited for because you are not open to working with them to figure out what they would need to work most comfortably in your office. JAN provides the example of a wheelchair bound person who simply needed their desk raised on blocks to allow them to sit ergonomically, a fix that cost the business approximately $10 to implement.
Now, the other thing you need to remember is
that, in most cases, you are legally required to make accommodations for an
employee that has a legitimate request. The Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) notes that
reasonable accommodations are required for any employer with 15 or more
workers, unless said employer can prove that providing such accommodations
would present an “undue hardship” to their business. The reality is that
failure to accommodate these requests is big business for lawyers – a quick
google search will show you case after case, with many of these lawsuits
quickly escalating to disability discrimination show-downs that become very “he
said, she said.” While losing a case is certainly costly – and the EEOC really
fights for workers – the financial and time costs associated with preparing to
defend yourself in court, even if you win, is also incredibly burdensome (check
stats from the EEOC on some recent cases,
verdicts, and payouts for a clearer idea of what you might be up
In short, you owe it to your employee to at least
entertain a conversation about requested accommodations, but in many cases you
will find that the fix is more affordable than you may have thought and you
will reap the investment benefits for years to come.