The Americans with Disabilities Act, now more than 30 years old, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Many employers may be concerned about the cost of making those accommodations. However, a recent government study shows that the costs are typically minimal or non-existent.
The report, from an office of the U.S. Department of Labor, shows that the median cost of an employee accommodation was $300. The data came from a survey of more than 3,500 employers taken between 2019 and 2023.
The employers were in a variety of industries and comprised sizes from small to Fortune 500. Each of them contacted the department for information about workplace accommodations, the ADA, or both.
The report’s key findings are:
- More than half of the contacts were from an employer trying to retain an employee. On average, these were employees who had been on the job more than six years, with an associate college degree or better, and who earned $18 an hour or more.
- Almost half the employers reported that the workplace accommodations cost them nothing. Another 43% reported incurring a one-time cost, and the median cost was $300. Only one out of 14 incurred ongoing annual costs, with the median cost at $3,750.
- The accommodations worked. More than two-thirds of the employers surveyed said that they were very or extremely effective. Another 18% found them to be somewhat effective.
- Employers enjoyed several direct and indirect benefits from the accommodations. The direct benefits included:
- Improved employee retention
- Increased employee productivity
- Increased employee attendance
- Reduced new hire training costs
- Increased diversity
- Reduced insurance costs
- Better new hires.
Indirect benefits included:
- Improved interactions with the employee
- Safer workplace
- Better workplace morale
- Better interactions with customers
- Better company productivity
- Better overall attendance.
The report gave examples of successful employer accommodations involving:
- Employees suffering fatigue from long COVID. One employer provided frequent short breaks. Another agreed to a four-day work schedule. Neither reported direct costs.
- A visually impaired employee suffering eye strain from using a computer to write reports. The employer purchased $600 dictation software.
- A health care worker suffering from anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was distracted by co-worker and patient noise. The employer spent $250 on noise-canceling headsets.
- A grocery store permitted a clerk to bring a service animal to work at no cost.
- For $150, an employer provided a one-handed computer keyboard for an employee who had lost the use of a hand.
Reasonable accommodations for disabled employees may be less expensive than you fear.
With some flexibility and perhaps the outlay of small amounts of money, you can attract and retain valuable employees, make your business more productive, hold down workers’ compensation costs, and give your business a reputation as a great place to work.
Employers who need help designing accommodations should contact the Labor Department’s Job Accommodation Network. At little or no expense, you can gain an edge in the war for talent.