The Cornell Just-in-Time Toolkit for Managers

Tips, checklists, and resources to help managers lead a disability inclusive workforce.

Topic #2
Disability in the Workplace:
What's True and What's Not True

Not everyone is comfortable working with people with disabilities. People who are misinformed or not educated about disability issues may not know how to separate myth from fact. This tool will help by presenting some basic facts about disability at work.

Myth. The main point of including employees with disabilities is to avoid a lawsuit.

Fact.  The main point is competitive advantage. 

Legal compliance alone is not a source of competitive advantage. Disability inclusiveness is! Workplace practices that include and accommodate individuals with disabilities are not just about the law. It’s about sound business. Disability inclusiveness enables high performance, increases productivity, reduces off-work time, prevents turnover, and helps the business connect with the one-fifth of their customer base who have disabilities. 

When most managers think of disability issues, they think of lawsuits. In reality only a tiny percentage of managers have ever actually experienced an ADA lawsuit. And many of these could likely have been avoided if the manager understood his or her rights and responsibilities under the law, and recognized the value that individuals with disabilities can bring to the company’s workforce. 

Myth.  Employees with disabilities take up more of a manager’s time.

Fact.  Employees with disabilities take the same amount of a manager’s time as any other employee.   

According to research (DePaul University, 2007), employees with disabilities did not take any more of a manager’s time than other employees.  

Myth.  Employees with disabilities have more workplace accidents.

Fact.  Employees with disabilities have the same amount of workplace accidents. 

This study also found that employees with disabilities were no more likely than other employees to have workplace accidents (DePaul University, 2007).  

Myth.  Employees with disabilities have more absences and off-work time than other employees.

Fact. Employees with disabilities have the same absence rate and off-work time as other employees.

Finally, the study found that the attendance records of employees with disabilities were actually similar to any other employee (DePaul University, 2007).  

Myth.  Under the ADA employees with disabilities can’t get negative performance feedback or be terminated.

Fact.  Employees with disabilities must meet the same performance standards as others.

Employees with disabilities do not need to be treated delicately or protected from bad news.  Performance problems of employees with disabilities can be treated the same way you would treat these problems with any other employee.    

Myth.  Employer’s health insurance rates are set by the percentage of employees with disabilities they have in their workforce.   

Fact.  Health insurance rates are not set according to the number of individuals with disabilities in the workforce.   

Let’s re-consider what “healthy” means. Many people think disability automatically means being “unhealthy.” Individuals with disabilities come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of fitness. A disability inclusive workforce does not mean an unhealthy or unwell workforce. And, hence, health insurance rates cannot be determined by the number of individuals with disabilities hired into your workforce. 

Myth.  Individuals with psychiatric disabilities are likely to be violent in the workplace.    

Fact.  Generally, employees with psychiatric disabilities are no more likely than others to commit acts of workplace violence.   

Research suggests that individuals with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Also, many studies on violence and psychiatric disabilities focus only on people with very severe psychiatric disabilities and/or those who have psychiatric disabilities along with severe substance abuse issues. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities who do not have these complicating factors are no more likely than others to be violent in the workplace (Applebaum, Robbins & Monahan, 2000; Monahan, et. al., 2001; Petersen, et. al., 2014).    

Myth.  Managers must employ individuals with disabilities even if they could be a danger to others.    

Fact. The ADA does not force managers to employ people when they could be a danger to others.  

Legitimate safety issues must always be addressed. When an employee with a disability poses a clear and imminent danger or “direct threat” to others, managers can and should take action to alleviate that threat. The ADA does not prevent managers from dealing with legitimate safety concerns in the workplace. 

Myth.  Customers are uncomfortable interacting with employees with disabilities.   

Fact.  92% of customer’s report that they prefer to buy from companies who employ individuals with disabilities.   

Having a disability inclusive workforce sends an important message to customers about what Cornell stands for. Research tells us that this message impacts customers’ buying decisions and Cornell’s ability to attract talent (Siperstein, Romano, Mohler, Parker, 2006), Cone Cause Survey, 2008).

Myth. Individuals with disabilities that can’t be seen by others probably don’t have severe enough disabilities to have rights under the ADA.    

Fact.  People with both obvious and nonobvious disabilities can have rights under the ADA.    

Individuals with diabetes, seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress injury, bipolar disorder, and cancer are likely to have rights under the ADA even though you probably wouldn’t know they had these conditions unless they told you. 

References

Applebaum, P., Robbins, P., Monahan, J. (2000).  Violence and delusions: Data from the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study. Am J Psychiatry, Vol 157:566–572.

Cone Cause (2008).  Past. Present. Future.  The 25th Anniversary of Cause marketing.  Accessed http:/cdn.volunteermatch.org/www/corporations/rexources/cone_research.pdf.

DePaul University and Disability Works.  Exploring the Bottom Line:  A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Workers with Disabilities.  Released January 28, 2007.  Accessed at Accessed at http://bbi.syr.edu/_assets/staff_bio_publications/McDonald_Exploring_the_Bottom_Line_2007.pdf

Monahan, J., Steadman, H., Silver, E., Appelbaum, P., Clark, R., Mulyey, E., Roth, L., Grisso, T., Banks, S. (2001).  Rethinking Risk Assessment: The MacArthur Study of Mental Disorder and Violence.  Oxford University Press.

Peterson, J., Kennealy, P., Skeem, J., Bray, B., & Zyonkovic, A. (2014).  How Often and How Consistently do Symptoms Directly Precede Criminal Behavior Among Offenders With Mental Illness?  Law and Human Behavior, online April 15, 2014.  DOI: 10.1037/lhb0000075

Siperstein, G., Romano, N., Mohler, A., Parker, R. (2006). A national survey of consumer attitudes towards companies that hire individuals with disabilities.  Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 24(1), p. 3-9.

Steadman, H., Mulvey, E., Monahan, J., Clark-Robbins, P., Appelbaum, P., Grisso, T., Roth, T., and Silver, E. (1998) Violence by People Discharged From Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Facilities and by Others in the Same Neighborhoods. Archives of General Psychiatry. Vol 55 No. 5, pp. 389 – 477, May 1998.