Provides findings and policy implications from case study interviews in 2017 with HR professionals and supervisors providing accommodations for workers with health problems. 

The authors “interviewed human resources (HR) professionals at 14 organizations in Arkansas in an effort to understand the most important factors influencing employers’ efforts to support and accommodate workers with health problems…” (p.2).

“Who was interviewed?

Fifteen HR professionals and supervisors from 14 employers were interviewed in spring 2017. Company size ranged from 80 employees to more than 20,000 employees. A variety of industries were represented, including: health care and social assistance; information and media; manufacturing; finance and insurance; transportation and warehousing; and educational services.

What kinds of cases did employers discuss?

Employers gave detailed information on 50 cases in which an employee developed or disclosed a health problem.

The most common health problems were:
• Cancer: 7 cases
• Musculoskeletal conditions: 5 cases
• Sensory impairment: 5 cases
• Leg/ knee/foot injuries: 5 cases

These employees varied in their employment outcomes:
• Stayed at organization: 21 cases
• Left due to health condition: 11 cases
• Left for other reason: 4 cases
• Terminated: 4 cases
• Status not provided: 10 cases” (p.2).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Full publication title: When Do Employers Provide Accommodations to Employees with Health Problems? Qualitative Evidence from Arkansas

Major Findings & Recommendations

Challenges exist in aiding employees facing health problems: “Resource constraints can impede accommodations Employers who had limited access to relevant resources reported more barriers to accommodating and retaining workers with health problems than employers with better access to those resources did” (p.2). Examples of these resource constraints include limited financial resources and staff capacity. “Communication problems create challenges for employers When an employee develops or discloses a health problem, a variety of stakeholders can influence the path forward. An employer’s ability to effectively communicate with all other stakeholders is a key factor influencing its ability to (1) understand what accommodations are needed, (2) provide those accommodations, and (3) facilitate the employee’s return to work…For many employers, poor communication…kept them from effectively assisting employees with health problems” (p.3). “Employee characteristics make a difference Employers’ accommodations of employees did not depend solely on community- and organization-level factors such as resources and communication processes. An employee could be more or less likely to receive accommodations based on his or her personal characteristics, such as tenure [and] work performance…” (p.4). In order to address some of these challenges, the state developed a program to assist employers: “How the Arkansas Stay-At-Work/ Return-To-Work (SAW/RTW) program helps employers The SAW/RTW program, which is operated by the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) agency at the Arkansas Department of Career Education, supports employers who are working to accommodate employees with health problems. This support takes the form of general ergonomics assessments, vocational counseling, job site assessments, and help developing SAW/RTW plans….Despite the many benefits of the SAW/RTW program, participants said they typically relied on ARS for only a few specific problems…”(p.3) “Implications for Policy Employers need appropriate resources and effective communication strategies to accommodate workers. Policy interventions designed to bolster employers’ resources (like the ARS SAW/RTW program)…should help employers who need assistance in these areas, assuming the employers know about them. However, [their] findings suggest that the employees’ own characteristics also play a pivotal role in whether employers make real efforts to accommodate…workers…” (p.5). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)