Employing people with disabilities is extra work, but it pays off, companies agree
On November 21, a meeting of signatories of the Diversity Charter took place at the Nedbalka Gallery in Bratislava, focusing on the employment of people with disabilities. Six new companies voluntarily committed to creating a diverse and respectful working environment for their employees.
When considering hiring a person with a disability, it is important to keep in mind information relevant to legislation and that is necessary for successful integration into the workplace. Employers have the right to know whether a particular candidate has a recognized level of decline in the ability to perform income-generating activities by more than 40%, i.e., whether they are a person with a disability. However, they are not entitled to obtain detailed information about their health. They can only request information from the individual that is related to their performance of the specific job. Anna Podlesná, CSR Manager at Profesia, explained that “the employer needs to know how the person can work, not about their specific illness or disability. For example, how quickly they learn, whether they travel independently, if they use assistive technologies when working with a computer, what those technologies are, how they handle planning and meeting deadlines. If we say that an applicant is visually impaired, it does not give the HR professional the necessary picture of their abilities. Those are known from information related to job performance in the advertised position.”
Questions that employers can ask during interviews:
- Do you use assistive technologies in your work? If yes, what kind?
- Do you need a work assistant?
- How many hours per day can you work?
- Do you experience increased stress from anything? What helps you manage it?
- What helps you meet deadlines?
- How do you prefer to receive instructions?
Podlesná also points out that there is a difference in whether similar questions are posed to someone with or without work experience. “People who do not have work experience often cannot tell you what would help them work fully.” According to her, the key is how a person with a disability wants and can perform the job, and especially “whether I, as an employer, can/know how to adjust the work environment so that the person can use their skills and abilities at work.”
Companies, as well as candidates, should realize that not every person with a disability is suitable for the open job market. The ability to manage activities of daily living necessary for work (commuting, personal hygiene, appearance, verbal and non-verbal communication) and behavior during work performance (handling stress, interpersonal relationships, perseverance, criticism, initiative) are crucial. Research shows that up to 90% of job loss cases in people with disabilities are related to a lack of social and communication skills.
How to start employing people with disabilities?
Podlesná recommends starting small. Choose one candidate for a real job position, even if modified, but needed in the workplace. “People are very sensitive when they find out that their company hired them just to check off that they employ a person with a disability.”
It is also advisable to offer an internship or part-time work at the beginning. According to the Labor Code, the employer can terminate the employment of an employee with a disability only with the prior consent of the Office of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family. It is also important to take the time to evaluate this experience and find out what the company/organization can improve or adjust in this area.
Communication with parents and colleagues is important
Employers who are hiring people with disabilities may also face a new challenge of communicating with the parents of the person with a disability. In some cases, the family member plays a crucial role in helping the person transition to work and maintain it. This may include assistance with transportation to work, adherence to the work schedule, working from home, or personal hygiene.
If a company is welcoming a person with a disability into its team, it is advantageous if the team or at least the team leader has experience with such a colleague. “We find it very effective if the team already had previous experience; we perceive a high level of empathy there,” said A. Podlesná. She also added that it is necessary to consider a longer integration period and that it will require extra time from other colleagues, which may affect the performance of the entire group. Adjusting social and communication skills to the specific needs of the individual can also be aided by a so-called job coach. “However, there are some obstacles because we are not yet accustomed to a mediator who could bridge understanding between the applicant and the employer.”
Profesia, through its Help with Heart program, assists people with disabilities in finding work by creating resumes, searching for suitable job offers, communicating with potential employers, and integrating into the open job market. In January 2023, they launched the pilot year of the Profesia Lab program — a space for meaningful collaboration between employers, NGOs, schools, and HR/career advisors striving for inclusive employment in practice. Profesia also offers a free database of job seekers on its portal, which, as of November 2023, includes almost 1 700 resumes of people with disabilities looking for a job.
It’s extra work, but it pays off
Eva Jankovičová from CURADEN Slovakia, Štefánia Kadyľáková from TESCO STORES SR, and Lucia Kupčová from VÚB bank shared their experiences with employing people with disabilities during a panel discussion. They also have experience with the Profesia Lab program.
Curaden employs 10 people with disabilities (mostly people with autism or Down syndrome) in its retail outlets, referring to them as “extraordinary colleagues.” They work as salespersons in stands, usually once or twice a week for two hours, as working longer in the busy environment of shopping centers is challenging for them. E. Jankovičová highlighted the role of the parent in the entire employment process. “They are our liaison and help a lot with integration. During the first few weeks, it is important for a person with a disability to have a close person to spend the initial moments with them at work, who can help them with arrival and departure from work.”
Tesco employs 470 people with disabilities, both mental and physical. They can apply for various positions based on their abilities — customer service assistants, operational support workers, or even in the central office, such as the IT department or customer support. They assess whether they can provide a suitable working environment for the person with a disability at the beginning of cooperation. “When a colleague in a wheelchair started, we had to make workplace adjustments — such as setting the doors to open automatically or lowering the placement of the time clock. In an interview with another colleague in a wheelchair, we went directly to the sales floor and checked if they could get there without any problems or if any adjustments would be needed,” said Š. Kadyľáková.
VÚB bank currently employs 150 people with various forms of disabilities. Through Profesia Lab, they hired two neurodivergent young people without previous work experience this year, working in the IT department. Lucia Kupčová confirmed the significant role of a mediator — whether it’s a parent, caregiver, or a job coach. However, she also emphasized the need for the person to become independent as soon as possible, where access to the workplace plays a crucial role. “We found it very effective to prepare a personalized approach in collaboration with a coach for each such employee. It makes it easier for them to manage work tasks, and it is also helpful for the team leader, who can provide better support to the employee.”
Tesco presented its third Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Report
Miroslava Rychtarechová, Operational HR Manager at Tesco Stores SR, also spoke at the meeting, presenting the Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Report for 2023. The report informs about Tesco’s ambitions, strategies, and methods in the DEI area, summarizes progress to date, and points out areas where they can do more. The report addresses transparency in compensation, employing young people, improving the working environment for women, supporting caregivers, and integrating people with disabilities. “Just as we have diverse customers at our stores, we want to have equally diverse colleagues. We want our customers to see someone very similar at the store, who lives a similar life and shares similar values,” added M. Rychtarechová.
The Diversity Charter has six new signatories
The meeting also included the admission of new signatories. The following companies voluntarily committed to creating a diverse, respectful, and safe environment for their employees:
- CMS Slovakia
- Imperial Tobacco Slovakia
- TOMRA Sorting
Since its beginning in 2017, the Diversity Charter has already had 149 signatories from various sectors and areas of activity.