Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 611–633 | Cite as

Employers’ Perspectives on Accommodating and Retaining Employees with Newly Acquired Disabilities: An Exploratory Study

  • Alix Gould-Werth
  • Katherine Morrison
  • Yonatan Ben-Shalom


Introduction Timely and appropriate accommodations can help employees who experience disabilities stay at work instead of exiting the labor force. Employers can play a critical role in connecting such workers with the accommodations they need. This qualitative study seeks to inform policy makers who want to improve workforce retention outcomes by uncovering factors that affect whether employers provide accommodations to, and ultimately retain, employees with disabilities. Methods We conducted semistructured interviews with a convenience sample of human resources professionals in 14 Arkansas-based employers, yielding detailed information on 50 cases in which an employee developed or disclosed a disability. We analyzed the interviews using a grounded theory approach and compared cases to identify key themes emerging across subgroups of cases. Results Two organization-level factors and four employee-level factors influenced employers’ efforts to accommodate and retain employees with disabilities: employer resources; employers’ communication with the employee and other stakeholders; employee tenure; employee work performance; active/sedentary nature of employee role; and the severity and type of employees’ health conditions. Conclusions Consistent with prior literature, employers with greater access to resources and better ability to communicate generally made greater effort to accommodate and retain employees with disabilities. However, employers in the study did not deploy these resources and processes consistently when making decisions about whether and how to provide accommodations to workers with disabilities; employee-level characteristics affected their actions. Policy makers should consider intervention approaches that reach workers who may be overlooked by employers with scarce resources.


Work Disability Work retention Work accommodations Qualitative research 



Thank you to Rayna Thornton and Stephanie Rosenbluth for research assistance.


Funding for this study was provided by the Research and Training Center on Employment Policy and Measurement at the University of New Hampshire, which is funded by the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, in the Administration for Community Living, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under cooperative agreement 9ORT5037-02-00. The contents do not necessarily represent the policy of DHHS and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government (EDGAR, 75.620 (b)).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Alix Gould-Werth, Katherine Morrison, Yonatan Ben-Shalom declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed as part of this study were approved by the University of New Hampshire Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research under IRB #6600. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alix Gould-Werth
    • 1
  • Katherine Morrison
    • 2
  • Yonatan Ben-Shalom
    • 2
  1. 1.Washington Center for Equitable GrowthWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Mathematica Policy ResearchWashingtonUSA

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