Workplace Accommodations for Employees With Disabilities: A Multilevel Model of Employer Decision-Making

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Abstract

Purpose: Existing research suggests that the decision to grant or deny workplace accommodations for people with disabilities is influenced by a range of legal and nonlegal factors. However, less is known about how these factors operate at the within-person level. Thus, we proposed and tested a multilevel model of the accommodation decision-making process, which we applied to better understand why people with psychological disabilities often experience greater challenges in obtaining accommodations. Method: A sample of 159 Australian adults, composed mostly of managers and HR professionals, read 12 vignettes involving requests for accommodations from existing employees. The requests differed in whether they were for psychological or physical disabilities. For each vignette, participants rated their empathy with the employee, the legitimacy of the employee’s disability, the necessity for productivity, the perceived cost, and the reasonableness, and indicated whether they would grant the accommodation. Results: Multilevel modeling indicated that greater empathy, legitimacy, and necessity, and lower perceived cost predicted perceptions of greater reasonableness and greater granting. Accommodation requests from employees with psychological disabilities were seen as less reasonable and were less likely to be granted; much of this effect seemed to be driven by perceptions that such accommodations were less necessary for productivity. Ratings on accommodations were influenced both by general between-person tendencies and within-person appraisals of particular scenarios. Conclusions: The study points to a need for organizations to more clearly establish guidelines for how decision-makers should fairly evaluate accommodation requests for employees with psychological disabilities and disability more broadly.

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