Accommodating disability in the workplace
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AbstractWorkplace disability is an issue of substantial concern to employers, employees, unions, and public policy makers. While a great deal of research on the topic has occurred across a wide array of disciplines, much of the empirical work has been atheoretical. This dissertation describes two prominent workplace disability models and explains the necessity of developing an alternative that is less reliant on the psychological processes of disabled employees and their colleagues, and does not assume the employee is capable of performing the tasks assigned. A qualitative field investigation was therefore conducted in order to identify additional variables and develop an alternative model. The research question asked: what are the key variables impacting the process of workplace reintegration for disabled employees? Data from 72 arbitration cases, 23 in-depth interviews, employer policies, and discussions with industry practitioners was analyzed using grounded theory techniques of coding and constant comparison. Five categories of variables emerged as significant contributors to the ease or difficulty of accommodations: 1) the employment and disabiltty history of the employee, 2) the nature of the disability (particularly chronicity, visibility, and legitimacy), 3) the behaviours and attitudes of the returning employee, 4) employer factors such as degree of accommodation effort, inclusion of the disabled employee, and sophistication of reintegration procedures, as well as 5) outside agent factors ( e.g. the relationship between the employer and the employee's physician). Social capital theory is then utilized to explain much of the interaction among the variables. Social capital is the goodwill available to individuals or groups in a social system. It is contained in the structure and quality of relationships within and outside the social group. Contrary to much of the recent research, I suggest that bonding ( as opposed to bridging) forms of capital are most critical for disabled employees re-entering the workplace. When disability decreased credibility, repayment of favours, or when it prompted behaviours that violated in-group norms, accommodations were more difficult. In addition to social capital theory, some observations are explained using the concepts of locus of control, procedural justice and agency theory.
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