Workplace Accommodations for Older Workers: An Examination of Employer Practice
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This paper presents the preliminary findings of research on the extent to which employers are currently accommodating older workers, with results assisting in the development of future accommodation strategies and providing groundwork to craft policy approaches to address this matter.
Projections indicate that the number of older worker will increase significantly over the next twenty years, with this demographic likely to comprise a sizeable portion of the workforce (GAO, 2001) . As a person ages, the likelihood of developing a disability increases and such disability could require accommodation in the workplace. Accommodating these workers may prove challenging for employers who have reported that they are not currently considering or preparing for the impact of an aging workforce on their business. This paper presents the preliminary findings of research on the extent to which employers are currently accommodating older workers and the types of accommodations are being made to retain these workers (including accommodations implementing universal design principles and those modifying workplace policies) . The results of this study will provide insight into the state of accommodations for older workers, and assist in development of future accommodation
strategies, providing groundwork to craft policy approaches to address this matter.
2.0 AGING WORKERS AND WORKPLACE ACCOMMODATIONS
As the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) moves toward retirement and as health care advances continue, more individuals are choosing to re—enter or remain in full or part—time work activities (Finch and Robinson, 2003) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.9 percent of the labor force will be 55 or older in 2010; an increase of 4 percent from 2000 (Rix, 2002) . In addition, the number of Americans age 65 and older will more than double between 2000 and 2040, increasing to 77 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000) . Between 2001— 2010, the number of workers over age 55 will increase 46.6%; workers between the ages of 25-54 will increase by only 5% (SIrIRM, 2003) . Many factors at the federal level are encouraging older workers to postpone retirement. Hansson et al (1997) note that “the age of eligibility for social-security benefits is gradually being raised from age 65—67 years, penalties for early retirement are increasing, and retirement credits
associated with deferred retirement are increasing.” In addition, the ability to work longer, the need for additional earnings, the enjoyment of the social interaction and the self-esteem that work provides contribute to the desire of an older individual to continue working past retirement age (Committee for Economic Development, 1999)
Functional limitations such as vision and hearing impairments, arthritis, and loss of stamina, are common to older adults and could potentially require accommodation
• within the workplace, as they may hinder an older worker’s ability to perform a task or could risk the safety of the worker or other employees (Bansson et al., 1997) . Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (
The ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless providing such an accommodation would cause
S the employer undue hardship (which is significant difficulty or expense in relation to the resources of the employer) (EEOC, 2002)
This study (both survey and subsequent case studies) provides additional insight into the way employers systematically deal with needs of aging employees. After an initial literature review, 61 phone calls were made to a randomly drawn sample of Fortune 500 companies from Bureau of Labor Statistics—predicted areas of economic growth. semi-structured phone interviews were conducted with Human Resources (HR) representatives on the extent to which they are currently accommodating older workers, and on the types of accommodations being made to retain these workers (including accommodations implementing universal design principles and those modifying workplace policies)
4.0 RESULTS AND CONCLUSION
Of the 61 employers contacted, two HR executives completed the survey. While the level of participation was disappointingly low, comments from the respondents led us to speculate that the issue of workplace accommodations is either sensitive enough to avoid, or that workplace accommodations are not well documented. Respondents reported that a very small percentage of their company’s workforce consisted of employees age 65 or older (—2—3%). According to their responses, both companies keep records of HR-reported workplace accommodations and one company continually assesses and modifies accommodation arrangements. Both companies reported difficulty keeping accurate records on workplace accommodations because of the number of unofficial accommodations made every day, therefore, each had difficulty answering questions regarding the particular types of accommodations requested by and provided to older workers. Respondents indicated that they are aware of the increasing older adult workforce, but are not targeting this group for accommodations. Both companies indicated that they anticipate supplying a greater number of workplace accommodations for older workers within the next 20 years.
Given the small number of interviewees, a second round of follow up interviews is planned, along with a case study on one of the original participants and an online survey to probe a larger number of employers. Future results will allow the development of accommodation strategies, providing groundwork to craft policy approaches to address the aging workforce. Rather than a single (accommodative) approach, alternatives include the increased use of universally designed workplaces and changes to workplace policies that accommodate and potentially benefit all employees. From a policy standpoint, increased efforts need to be made not only to collect information and increase awareness of the important of proactive approaches by employers in addressing the aging of the workplace, but to develop new holistic models of productive workplaces. Comments generated during the preliminary survey indicate that enhanced efforts need to be undertaken to catalogue the impact of the aging work.
Force on employer productivity. The fact that employers are sometimes reluctant to design workplaces that can accommodate all workers may result from simple lack of awareness of the degree of the problem, lack of understanding of the array of options possible to develop accessible workplaces, or concerns of increased liability and expense (Mueller, 1998)
Generation of “best practice guidance”, case studies and supporting research can be used to provide groundwork to help employers develop workplaces that not only meet the needs of aging workers, but also workplaces that better accommodate the characteristics of all employees. Increased awareness of the importance cf addressing the aging workplace is needed, along with increased efforts toward.
a empirical data collection, improved workplace design and processes that improve the ability of all workers to optimally contribute to workplace productivity.
Collision, J. (2003) . SHRM/NOWCC/CED Older Workers Survey.
Committee for Economic Development (1999) . New Opportunities for Older Workers. Retrieved March 10, 2005 from the Committee for Economic Development via http://www.ced.org/docs/report/report older. pdt/
Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities
Act. Retrieved September 28, 2005 from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Finch, J. and M. Rohioson (2003) . “Aging and Late—Onset Disability:.Addressing Workplace Accommodations.” Journal of Rehabilitation. Vol. 69 (2)
Hansson, R., P. DeKoekkoek,
Mueller, J. (1998). “Assistive Technology and Universal Design in the Workplace.” Assistive Technology. Vol. 10 (1)
Rix, S.E. (2002). “The Labor Market for Older Workers.” Oenerations. Vol. 26)2).