JAN Written Testimony
Beth Loy, Ph.D.
Job Accommodation Network
COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS
March 22, 2012
Full Committee Hearing –
Stay-at-Work and Back-to-Work Strategies:
Lessons from the Private Sector
This testimony was developed by the Job Accommodation Network, funded by a contract agreement from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (DOL079RP20426). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. Nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Enzi, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), on stay-at-work and back-to-work strategies. As a national resource for employers about all aspects of workplace accommodation, a key element of successful stay-at-work and back-to-work strategies, JAN is in a unique position to offer “Lessons from the Private Sector.”
Since 1983, JAN has been the leading source of national, free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, including the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace. JAN serves from 30,000 to 40,000 people per year. JAN’s annual data for 2010-2011 surpassed previous years, reaching a high of over 40,000 annual contacts, with 41% from employers and 56% from some form of private industry.
A longitudinal research study conducted by JAN (JAN Study) shows that a large part of stay-at-work and back-to-work strategies involve changes in how a job is traditionally done. Often these changes are considered workplace accommodations. These accommodations may involve making facilities accessible, restructuring a job, modifying a schedule, purchasing equipment, providing a service, and/or reassignment to another position.
The JAN Study contains responses from five groups: employers, service professionals, individuals, entrepreneurs, and others. The employer responses are highlighted in an annual report, the most recent containing responses from almost 2,000 employers (See Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact. JAN, Updated 2011). The employer participants had all contacted JAN for technical assistance and subsequently were asked if they would be willing to participate in a user-satisfaction survey. Those employers who agreed to participate in the JAN Study were contacted within eight weeks. They were asked a series of questions about their contact with JAN and what occurred after that contact. JAN offers several lessons from survey responses and data analyses.
Lesson #1: Most employers report no cost or low cost when implementing stay-at-work and back-to-work strategies.
Despite what some employers think, the JAN Study shows that accommodations are typically not expensive. Of the employers who gave cost information related to changes they had provided for employees, 56% said the workplace changes needed by employees cost absolutely nothing. Another 38% experienced a one-time cost. Of those changes that did have a cost, the typical one-time expenditure by employers was $500. Note that these data have remained consistent:
- The five year trending number for the percentage of workplaces accommodations that cost nothing has fluctuated from 46% to 56%.
- The five year trending number for the typical one-time expenditure has fluctuated between $500 and $600.
Lesson #2: Employers want to make accommodations so they can retain valued and qualified employees.
The JAN Study shows that employers see value in retaining existing employees. Of the employers who contacted JAN for technical assistance and solutions, 82% were doing so to retain or promote a current employee as a part of their stay-at-work and back-to-work strategies. On average, the employees had been with the company about seven years, with an average wage of about $14 for those paid by the hour, or an average annual salary of about $49,500. In addition, the individuals tended to be fairly well-educated, with 45% having a college degree or higher. Note that these data have remained consistent:
- The five year trending number for the percentage of employers wanting to make accommodations to retain or promote employees has fluctuated between 82% and 83%.
- The five year trending number for the average annual salaries of employees involved in the retention or promotion process ranged from $47,000 to $49,500.
- The five year trending number for the education level of individuals involved in the retention or promotion process ranged from 43% to 45%.
Lesson #3: Employers report that making accommodations can be a significant piece of stay-at-work and return-to-work strategies.
Employers who had implemented workplace accommodations were asked to rank the effectiveness of these on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being extremely effective. Of those responding, 76% reported that accommodations were either very effective or extremely effective.
- The five year trending number for the effectiveness of accommodations ranged from 74% to 76%.
Lesson #4: Employers experience multiple direct and indirect benefits after implementing accommodations that support stay-at-work and return-to-work strategies.
Employers who made accommodations for employees reported multiple benefits as a result. The most frequently mentioned direct benefits were: (1) allowing the company to retain a qualified employee, (2) increasing the worker’s productivity, and (3) eliminating the costs of training a new employee.
The most widely mentioned indirect benefits employers reported were: (1) improving interactions with co-workers, (2) increasing overall company morale, and (3) increasing overall company productivity.
- The five year trending of direct benefits did not change in ranking, but did fluctuate up to 10% in raw numbers reported.
- The five year trending of indirect benefits did not change in ranking, but did fluctuate up to 11% in raw numbers reported.
Lesson #5: Hurdles most often involve a lack of information when engaging in the process to determine solutions.
Data garnered from the JAN Study show why the interactive process breaks down when looking for solutions. Results show that there are three major hurdles: (1) a lack of agreement on what documentation can be requested from an employee to determine a solution; (2) a lack of clarification on how to determine what is essential to the employee’s position; and (3) a lack of agreement on effective strategies, including the role of temporary changes, leave time, and reassignment.
Lesson #6: When using JAN’s free technical assistance, employers are likely to implement effective stay-at-work and back-to-work strategies.
Data from the JAN’s 2010-2011 research provide insight into successful situations and solutions from various employment settings and stages, including a wide sampling of industries and business sizes. Two examples of successful real-life no and low cost accommodations follow:
- An administrative support person had difficulty standing for long periods due to a foot injury. He worked for a bank that had a dress code policy requiring dress shoes and standing throughout the day. The company modified the dress code policy to allow all employees to wear alternative shoes. The employer reported to JAN that the modified dress code policy “increased professionalism and made all employees more comfortable while they were performing certain work tasks.” The employer reported that the cost of the change was $0.
- An engineer with a back condition was required to perform tasks and attend meetings in a seated position. The employer purchased an ergonomically designed knee chair and provided a closer parking space. The employer reported to JAN that the “employee was still able to work and remain an important part of the team.” The employer reported that the cost of the changes totaled $200.
Lesson #7: Trends in responses show success is correlated with employers seeking advice.
When confronted with implementing accommodations that support stay-at-work and return-to-work strategies, employers are more likely to overcome preconceived myths and stereotypes when working with a confidential, free resource. Data from the JAN Study showed that 98% percent of employers found that JAN understood their needs. In addition, 93% of employers stated that the information JAN sent them met their needs. Overall, 99% of employers stated they would use JAN again.
Employers continue to seek technical assistance on legislation, workplace accommodations, incentives, and information to support stay-at-work and return-to-work strategies. The data available from JAN present non-biased, reliable, and valid research gathered from solid design and methodology. These data are particularly valuable when understanding not only the motivations of the private sector, but also the costs, benefits, trends, and strategies that motivate employers.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to provide information on JAN and its employer research. You can access the free services offered by JAN at AskJAN.org or by calling (800)526-7234 (V) / (877)781-9403 (TTY). This concludes JAN statement.