A Comparison of Janitorial Workers with Mental Retardation and Their Non-Disabled Peers on Retention and Absenteeism

Article excerpt

In April of 1987, there were more than 500 million adults worldwide with one or more identified disabilities (Feldman, 1988). In the United States there are at least 43 million people with disabilities (Bartholomew, 1991), thirteen million of whom are of working age (Howard, 1989). According to one survey, two-thirds of working-age adults with disabilities would like to work but cannot find jobs (Bartholomew, 1991; Howard, 1989; Weinstein, 1990).

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1991) was enacted in 1990 to combat this problem of unemployment among persons with disabilities. It prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified job applicants with a physical or mental disability, and requires businesses, and government agencies to reasonably accommodate clients and customers with disabilities who use their services (Darragh, 1991).

To many persons with disabilities, the ADA appears to be a blessing. However, for some employers the ADA is perceived as a potentially costly mandate. While the threat of litigation may convince some employers to conform to the ADA, legislation may not change the negative perceptions that stigmatize persons with disabilities (Darragh, 1991; Noel, 1990).

Most of the unfavorable beliefs about persons with disabilities are unfounded but continue to be offered as reasons not to hire them (Jamero, 1979). Employees with disabilities are thought to perform less well, have more accidents, lower attendance rates, and higher turnover (Lester & Caudill, 1987; Stevens, 1986).

It is likely that these perceptions persist due to a lack of knowledge or contact with persons with disabilities or unsuccessful experiences with these employees (Parent & Everson, 1986). However, employers' attitudes have been shown to become more positive as their experiences with persons with disabilities increase (Levy, Jessop, Rimmerman, and Levy, 1994). As a result, the ADA may act as a catalyst to help reduce the negative stereotypes surrounding employees with disabilities.

Empirical findings comparing persons with disabilities to those without disabilities contradict many of these beliefs. Research focusing on both performance and non-performance related work behaviors indicates that employees with disabilities are comparable to or better than employees without disabilities on attendance, turnover rate, productivity, safety records, and overall job performance (Greenwood & Johnson, 1987; Lester & Caudill, 1987; Parent & Everson, 1986; Stevens, 1986).

Support for these beliefs is provided in a study of the McDonald's Project (Brickey and Campbell, 1981) which reported a turnover rate of 41% for workers with mental retardation compared to a rate of 175% for non-disabled (ND). During the second year there was no turnover for the employees with MR. Results also showed that supervisors were satisfied with the attendance behavior of the workers with MR.

Results from a comparative study of workers with MR and their non-disabled peers by the National Association of Retarded Citizens (1986) found that supervisors rated the employees with MR 44% better on attendance than their non-disabled coworkers. In a more recent study, Ondusko (1991) found no differences on length of service and number of days absent from work.

Other favorable evidence for workers with mental retardation is provided by Martin, Rusch, Tines, Brulle, and White (1985) who showed that employees with MR did not significantly differ from their non-disabled peers with respect to absences (excused or unexcused), or sick leave. Unexcused absences and sick leave hours taken were actually less than those of the non-disabled. Martin et al. (1985) also found that the non-disabled workers took significantly more vacation time than their co-workers with MR, most of whom did not take vacation time even after having accrued it. A strength of the Martin et al. …