While I was working for a large retailer, I recall being in the midst of a fairly busy holiday season, as is the case for most retailers during the months of October through January. During these latter months of the year, many retailers will increase (or ramp up) their hiring in order to meet the staffing levels needed to deal with the increased customer traffic especially in November and December.
The assistant store manager at this retailer location; was helping out the leadership team in conducting interviews and hires for several open positions in the store which included sales reps, merchandisers, etc. One of the interviewees happened to be a young woman with a mental impairment (for the purposes of this narrative, the mental impairment is irrelevant). Since the young woman interviewed with the assistance of a job coach (which I assume was state provided, since this young woman had not been employed by the company yet), it should have been apparent that as an employee she would need to be afforded additional support and training in order to be able to effectively carry out her assigned tasks (obviously this should not be a factor when considering making a hiring decision). To make a long story short, the young woman was hired and ended up eventually quitting shortly thereafter, due to the fact that she had become too overwhelmed by her job responsibilities (even with the assistance of her job coach).
I wanted to point out this particular situation for several reasons; (1) this was a bad hire from the onset, and I don’t mean the employee, but rather the lack of coordination and planning on the hiring manager’s part. Knowing that the employee would need special accommodations to complete the work tasks and then assigning the employee to one of the most challenging departments during one of the most busiest times of the year was poor planning to say the least. It’s important to remember that as an employer, you do not need to lower your performance standards, but leveraging your talent effectively is normally the best course of action. (2) Supervisors and other employees were not adequately prepared to deal with an employee with a mental impairment. This resulted in an ineffective form of communication with the employee that left both managers and the employee frustrated with the situation.
Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities (as defined under the ADA) that will not present an undue hardship to the employer. In this particular case, the employee could have been assigned to a different department that would have allowed the employee time to better develop the skills needed in her role. For more information on your role and responsibilities as an employer you can visit the ADA website. The site also contains a good source of information on hiring disabled veterans (which, on a separate note, are a great source of talent).
The second piece to this puzzle was the rest of the team. Taking the time to consider whether your supervisory personnel or other employees need additional training and/or resources regarding managing or working with an employee with a mental or physical disability, can help improve interactions and communications amongst your team members. Leaders should make this type of determination from the onset (be sure to discuss this with your HR or legal pro’s to ensure that you are remaining compliant with applicable laws), at the very least; it is a great opportunity to help develop your team members both personally and professionally.
For more information and ideas on developing an accommodation strategy for your organization visit the Job Accommodation Network website. The site has plenty of resources for employers both public and private, as well as, resources for individuals that cover a broad range of disability topics.
Lastly, according to the Department of Labor disabled Americans comprise about 20 percent of the total labor force participants (as of October 2013). That is a large amount of talent that could be used effectively by many organizations. Being able to identify the right accommodation strategy (i.e. physical modifications, scheduling, job restructuring, safety considerations…to name a few) for your disabled employees will increase the likelihood of your employees remaining engaged in their job roles, that will most likely than not, be accompanied by other goodies such as reduced turnover and increased productivity.