Employees with disabilities: promoting inclusive practices in the workplace

Organisational interventions can help managers prevent illness and injury absences in the workplace.

By Conxita Folguera

Despite legislative efforts to encourage disability inclusion in the workplace, companies and managers still have concerns about employing people with disabilities due to their presumed frequent levels of absenteeism compared with other employees.

Absence from work by employees with disabilities has been analysed at the macro level, but not within the day-to-day context of an organisation. In our study, we wanted to address this gap and get inside these organisations to see whether voluntary organisational interventions (actions designed to facilitate employee inclusion) could help to reduce the absenteeism of employees with disabilities.

An effective tool for reducing absenteeism

In order to dig deeper into the reasons for absenteeism, we analysed Parcs i Jardins, a company that provides gardening services for the city of Barcelona. This company has a policy of actively recruiting people with disabilities. Its workers are organised in teams called garden brigades, and each brigade can include one or more employees with disabilities.

Organisational interventions are an effective tool for reducing absenteeism in the workplace

In 2009, Parcs i Jardins decided to take a new step forward in its organisational practices. At the time, the company focused on complying with legislation regarding the number of employees with disabilities as a percentage of total staff (surpassing the limit required) and ensuring that the company's recruitment process was adapted to the needs of people with disabilities.

Gardener

The measures introduced in 2009 consisted of a complete diagnosis of the situation and resulted in voluntary training and development actions for employees with disabilities, as well as support for their coworkers and supervisors.

In our study, we measured the absenteeism rates of all employees--both with and without disabilities--before and after the intervention. We analysed injury and illness workplace absences.

Our findings proved that organisational interventions are an effective tool for reducing absenteeism in the workplace. We demonstrated that the absences of employees with disabilities decrease after this sort of intervention. Specifically, we showed that such interventions have a clear and significant effect on reducing illness-related absences in employees with disabilities.

Interventions also help to reduce absences caused by work-related injuries

We also found evidence--although weaker--that interventions also help to reduce absences caused by work-related injuries. For instance, two years after the intervention started absences due to medical reasons were reduced by 25% and 45% in employees with disabilities compared to those employees with and without disabilities who didn't take part in the intervention.

Practical implications for managers

Our findings confirm that managers' reluctance to hire people with disabilities due to their presumed levels of absenteeism can be addressed through an organisational intervention. Our research helps to challenge the biased negative stereotypes of workers with disabilities and provides support for organisations aiming to develop proactive inclusion policies.

We hope our findings will help to raise awareness and change employers' perceptions of the consequences of employing people with disabilities. Increasing the participation of people with disabilities in the workforce is a key part of efforts to reduce discriminatory behaviour towards these individuals.

This article is based on research findings in the journal International Labour Review.

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