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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The conception of this research project was the result of the constant support and motivation that the management of Symbiosis Centre for Management Studies provided. We would hence like to thank our Director, Dr Adya Sharma for giving us this opportunity.

We would like to extend our most special gratitude to our faculty mentor, Dr Sushil Mavale, for his continued and closed guidance. We would like to offer him our sincere regards for helping us every step of the way and for providing his valuable insights.

Last but not the least, we would like to express our most humble gratitude towards all the individuals who helped in the primary data collection for the project. That includes our peers who helped us get in touch with people in the corporate workforce and the officials who participated in the survey.

ABSTRACT

The treatment of PWD and critically ill employees has been questionable since the dawn of liberalization. In this research project, we studied the mindset, behaviour and attitude of employers and co-workers toward PWD and critically ill employees. We also focused on the kind of policies and technology relevant in today’s corporate scenario for PWD critically ill employees. This required us to conduct a questionnaire that covered the above topics. We reached out to company officials from various industries and asked them to give us honest inputs into the policies of their company. A significant number of officials co-operated with us and gave us valuable insights. Once the data collection was over, we analysed the information using statistical tools like charts and graphs and drew out our conclusions and suggestions from it.

INTRODUCTION

The 21st century is equipped with a young workforce of able individuals. A considerable portion of this workforce consists of people with disabilities and critical illnesses. Some of the best minds in the world today have some kind of disability but that does not hinder their work performance, as long as proper assistance is provided to them to cater to their needs.

Disability is one of the most crucial issues in modern society because the stigmatization of people with disabilities and critical illnesses has contributed to the conception of a biased perspective towards them. This puts them in a disadvantageous position compared to people who do not have physical reservations. Although most countries now have acts and regulations in place ensuring equal rights for PWD, the discrimination against them persists rooted in the mindset of people. It is vital here to understand that no research has proven that PWD and critically ill employees show less efficiency in their work. People like Stephen Hawking and Baxter Humby have proven that physical ailments cannot reduce performance efficiency. Many sportspersons have shown that disabilities cannot even hinder muscle and stamina driven tasks. Hence, it is imperative that organisations take due measures to ensure the comfort of the specially-abled and critically suffering strata of society.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.3% of the total US workforce have disabilities as of 2019. And an unaccounted percentage is critically ill. This number is too massive to ignore. The basic organisational practises enabling differently-abled and critical illness surviving employees to include mandatory awareness training, wheelchair ramps, special parking spaces and assistive technology.

Raising awareness about the treatment of PWD and workers with critical illnesses is the first step towards the de-stigmatization the society needs. It should be followed by equipment that can aid the employees into working with minimal disruptions. With the advancement of modern technology today, the limitations faced by PWD can be minimized to negligible standards. Critically ill employees enjoy still fewer rights than employees with disabilities. The concession and specialised medical leaves they can get depends majorly from corporation to corporation. They can hence not depend on governance to ensure their well-being but their own employers. MNCs hold enormous influence in the world today. The struggle to normalise and boost the involvement of PWD and critically ill employees will hence start with them. This research paper intends to explore the measures that are already being taken to the needs of the employees. It is imperative to understand what the attitude of organisations are towards their employees regardless of the regulations and laws passed by the government. Along with technology and infrastructure, the beliefs of employers and co-workers must be studied to conclude the most accurate account of how PWD employees are treated in their workplace.

While there is still a long way to go with regards to the experience PWD and critically ill employees share in the workplace, many steps are already being taken towards accommodating them. This research paper intends to explore the measures that are already being taken to cater to the needs of the employees.

OBJECTIVES

As a group we established a set of objectives that we hoped to achieve by the end of our research project. These objectives served as our paradigm for the successful completion of our project. Our objectives were fourfold and consisted of the following:

  • To analyse the attitude of organisations towards employees with critical illnesses and disabilities.
  • To understand the initiatives and practises undertaken by organisations towards people with critical illnesses and disabilities.
  • To analyse the behaviour and attitude of employees with critical illnesses and disabilities towards employment and organisation.

To study the employment and retention practises of employees with critical illnesses or disabilities in modern business organisations.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Unum (2019), a well-known employee benefits specialist company did a research on the challenges faced by employees who were critically ill, by taking a survey of 300 UK workers who were diagnosed with cancer. Though the majority of the candidates who undertook the survey said that they received some form of support from their employer, 28% commented that they did not receive any sort of support or the support they did receive fell below their expectations. 74% of the employees worried about the cost of cancer and how they would cope if they were to lose their jobs. With regards to the challenges they faced while working, 32% employees stated that taking time off work due to treatments and surgeries was a big obstacle. In addition, 30% of employees agreed to feeling tired at work and 19% reported feeling distracted.

According to a guide by Sarah Silcox and Zoe Dudgeon (2017), Macmillan Cancer Support conducted a research on cancer support and discrimination. They found that 90000 people of working ages are diagnosed with cancer and other such terminal illnesses. They have also found out that one in five employees who return to work after cancer face some sort of discrimination from their employer as well as colleagues. European Occupational Safety and Health Agency has found out that pension ages are also increasing signifying that more people will work into their old age, where they have more chances of being diagnosed with a terminal illness. A European chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies has concluded in her report that the average age at which men and women leave work has risen to 64 and 62 years respectively between the time period of 2004-2010.

B. Nowrouzi, N. Lightfoot, R. Watson and K. Cote (2009) did a study on workplace support provided for employees who suffered from cancer based on 255 northeastern Ontario workplaces. It was found out that public sector employees provided 5 times as much assistance that was provided by private sector employers. In the same way, large scale organisations were said to provide 7 times the assistance as small scale organisations. The data that they collected suggests that 62-84% of cancer survivors return back to work after treatment yet experience many problems in the workplace including hostility, deceased wages and discrimination.

Soraj Pruettikomon and Chaturong Louhapensang (2018) did a survey based in Thailand on how to improve workplace facilities and working environment for employees with physical disabilities. It has been found out that people with disabilities are often seen as a burden among the society and thus are neglected when it comes to job prospects. Even when they are employed, they face many challenges such as lack of understanding by their peers, physical impairments which prevent them from operating smoothly and environmental issues. For wheelchair users there are no storage space to keep their belongings and for those with hearing impairments, they are not able to follow instructions given to them.

A Science conference held in Washington DC (2019) suggested the following measures by which employers could approach employees with disabilities. The research found out that 60% employees who had no visible disabilities were very reluctant in disclosing that information to their employers. The research suggested that this could be only improved by creating a more comfortable working environment with proper training given to supervisors on how to deal with such information as well. Improving upon compensation gaps was another suggestion that was given in the research.

Silvia Bonaccio, Catherine E. Connelly, Ian R. Gellatly, Arif Jetha & Kathleen A. Martin Ginis (2019) did a study on the participation of people with disabilities in the workplace and concluded that people with disabilities do not experience the same access to job opportunities as others. It has been estimated that one out of three individuals with disabilities are employed with comparison to their counterparts and this disparity is only increasing with time. Similarly, among the employment rate in Canada, only 49% of people with disabilities are employed whereas 79% for those without a disability.

The Interagency Committee on Disability Research (2016) prepared a report which suggested that employing individuals with disabilities was majorly dependent on the organizational culture prevalent there. If the organizational culture was more oriented towards job autonomy, institutionalized job supports, leadership support, and learning and training opportunities, it would be more suitable for employees with disabilities. They have found out that only 26 percent have at least one employee with a disability, showing that the organizational culture needs to be more adapted towards the needs of those with disabilities.

Bram Cassidy Bevins (2003) has done research on the employability of individuals with varying disabilities and costs of needed workplace accommodations. Notwithstanding the discrimination that disabled individuals face at the workplace before being hired, they also face this discrimination after employment as well. This is mainly through the workplace accommodations such as restructuring work hours to acquisition of adaptive equipment (ramps for wheelchairs, machines which produce documents in Braille, etc.). Though the average cost of accommodation per disabled worker is low or sometimes even nil, companies still see this cost as a reason to not hire individuals who are disabled.

A qualitative study done by Disabled People’s Association and Institute for Policy Studies (2018) on discrimination faced by people with disabilities at the workplace, concluded that disabled people were ill-treated in many ways. This could be exploitation, manipulation, verbal shaming, and personal attacks. There were also certain stereotypes and assumptions made on the individuals. A non-disabled individual will form a bias on all deaf people based on a negative encounter with one deaf person. Peers of these employees sometimes also show paternalistic or controlling attitudes as well to them which they find as demeaning.

Priyanka Anand and Purvi Sevak (2017) conducted a research on the role of workplace accommodations in the employment of people with disabilities. The American Disabilities Act mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. Yet, only one quarter of disabled older workers have stated that they receive accommodation that would help them stay at work after the onset of their disability. One third of the people with disabilities have said that they face many barriers such as an inaccessible workplace and lack of transportation.

Investopedia (2019) published an article on critical illness insurance which provides financial aid to people who suffer from critical illnesses as they need extensive medical care and treatment. Critical illness insurance is a benefit that can be provided by employers to their employees who are worried about high pocket expenses. This is the same reason why Unum has enhanced their critical illness product which focuses on cancer support and cover.

DDC’s article (2017) talked about the HR Director, Marie Sandler as she shared her experiences of returning back to work after her extended period of illness in an article. One of the biggest issues was communication as employees prefer to keep it as a secret from their colleagues. Managers also don’t know how to respond to them and face difficulties in handling how to communicate with them. She says that if employees are provided with additional flexibility in working or given more comfortable accommodation and facilities at their workplace, they’ll feel much more worthy and valuable.

American Progress Organisation (2019) published an article on ‘Advancing Economic Security for People with Disabilities’ highlighting the need for advancing economic security for people with disabilities. This is because there is an added cost of living with a disability in the modern times that non-disabled people do not have to incur. They also lack accessible, affordable transportation and housing, which is the two largest expenses for most households. They have a lack of access to needed supports and services. This is why it is essential that people with disabilities are provided with as many job opportunities.

Howden website’s (2015) article ‘Why critical illness in the workplace is invaluable’ talks about the CIC or the Critical Illness Cover. CIC has been found to be majorly a voluntary benefit that employees can opt for by paying an annual deposit. However, there has been an increase in employers offering CIC as part of their benefits package to the employees. This cover amounts to 2-3 times of the wage being paid to the employee. The article emphasizes the importance of CIC as a part of core benefits by highlighting the predicted risk of cancer and heart disease following the rising obesity.

SHRM organization’s (2019) article ‘Accommodating Employees with Terminal Illness’ covers the issues and dilemmas employers face while dealing with employees battling terminal illnesses and disabilities. The dilemma being that employers should be able to accommodate employees with health restrictions without setting up a precedent for their actions in the future. It draws from the Myers v. Hose case study to conclude that“benevolent”employers can take measures in good faith and go beyond what is required to help employees with terminal illnesses without setting up any legal alarms.

MyBusiness online magazine (2019) did an informative piece that followed Mr. Alcott who established the Dylan Alcott Foundation for people with disabilities and his bid to remove the ‘unconscious bias’s or behavioral change against disabled people. His initiative was taken to battle the lack of employment opportunities for disabled people. The Dylan Alcott foundation claimed that according to their research, people with disabilities tended to take fewer sick leaves. The foundation hence demands a more diverse, less ableist workplace.

Brandon and Courtney Hunt (2012) did a study called ‘Attitudes toward people with disabilities: A comparison of undergraduate rehabilitation and business majors’ which elaborated on a research performed to analyze and compare the behaviour of two groups of undergraduate students towards specially abled people. 122 business majors and 152 rehabilitation service studies students participated in a survey and evaluated on the Attitude Towards Disabled Person Scale (ATDP). The average score of all the students on a scale of 0 to 120 with higher values indicating a positive attitude was 84.93. It was concluded that rehabilitation service students had a more positive attitude towards people with disabilities than business students.

NIBUSINESSINFO.CO.UK (2016) website published a comprehensive article about Disabled access and facilities in Business Premises by which talks about the necessary changes that need to be made to physical features of the organisation to enable comfort and efficiency of disabled employees. These changes are called ‘reasonable adjustments’. If a physical feature (any furniture, or appliance) puts the disabled person at a disadvantage, its effect should be removed or reduced by any means necessary. This can be done by making structural or physical changes in the workplace premises like replacing staircases with ramps to enable wheelchair usage.

FIH.ord.UK’s (2015) article ‘Disabled Access and Facilities in the Workplace’ puts light on the responsibilities of employers when they are recruiting people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities shall enjoy the same employment and workplace rights as other works along with few additional rights as stated in the Equality act 2010 (UK). Within this act, employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities in the workplace. These adjustments shall be made after a disabled employee is hired and are not required to be done in advance.

International Labour Office, Geneva (Skills and Employability Department, 2011) did a study on Disability in the Workplace. This study is an analysis of 25 company profiles which shows the attitudes of organisations in the context of hiring, retention, products, services and corporate social responsibilities towards people with disability. It also highlights how hiring people with disabilities can boost the overall diversity and creativity of the workforce. It also sheds light on the practise of overlooking disabled people when it comes to hiring and recruitment.

101 Mobility website (2016) conducted a study on treatment of disabled people in an article titled Top 6 companies that hire people with disabilities. The study sheds light on the unfair treatment of disabled people in the workforce. It cites data from CNN which shows that only 41.1% disabled American citizens are given jobs while 79.1% of non-disabled citizens are employed. It has been found that some of the candidates with disabilities are fully qualified for their jobs but are denied opportunities because of their disabilities. It then names the 6 American organizations who hire the greatest number of disabled people including IBM Corporation, Proctor and Gamble, Ernst and Young, Cisco Systems, SC Johnson and Sodexo. Kate Hilpern (2010) published a story titled ‘Terminally ill employees: HR’s role and responsibility’. It elaborates on a study conducted by Kate Hilpbern that explores the increasing trend of employees working with terminal illness and the role of HR in that context. It cites data shared by a cancer charity MacMillan that says that more people are working after being diagnosed with terminal illnesses than before, often within days of their demise. Most employees continue working to attain a sense of normality while others work to fend for families and themselves.

Benenden Health (2015) published an article ‘Supporting Employees affected by terminal illness’ which focuses on the need of having an open conversation about and with people of terminal illness at the workplace. These conversations must be kept confidential and should be preferably conducted by an HR person. This dialogue is most essential when the employee has been newly diagnosed. Aspects like the duration of their work, sharing of the knowledge of their illness with colleagues, and reasonable adjustments required should be discussed in detail.

Vicki Moore’s (2020) article ‘Workplace accommodation encourages continued employment for cancer survivors’ cites data from analysis published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer which states that cancer patients continue working on their jobs 5 years if accommodations are made for them. The study conducted in France followed two groups. One group had accommodations made for cancer patients while the other group did not have accommodations. The propensity-matched analysis of the study concluded with 95% 5-year employment in the first group which had accommodation as opposed to 77.8% in the accommodation deprived group.

Nicole Van Hoey (2017) published a story titled When Cancer Leads to Workplace Discrimination’. This story sheds light on the unfair treatment employees with terminal illnesses like cancer experience in the workplace. These include being demoted without a genuine or transparent reason, not being considered for higher positions, being given lack of flexibility for important matters like health checkups and medical tests etc.

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

The stigmatization of PWD and critically ill employees has led to prejudice in many workplaces. The worst effect of it is however blatant discrimination and antagonism by colleagues. This antagonism is often justified and explained by stating the lack of productivity of PWD and critically ill employees at their jobs.

This lack of productivity does not originate by a lack of mental or physical capabilities but because there is seldom little to no supportive equipment to aid the disabilities. It is hence imperative that organisations install assistive equipment in their premises to the best of their resources to tap into the powerhouse that is the PWD and a critically ill section of the workforce. Having a lot to offer in terms of both skill and talent, PWD and critically ill employees need just a little support to overshine their physical and mental reservations.

A need for empathy amongst co-workers is also crucial to normalise PWD and critically ill colleagues. Only with a perfect balance of technological, emotional and psychological support and collective collaboration can the modern workforce become fully inclusive.

This project aims to introspect the problem in the context of a developing country like India. Through limited primary data collections, it plans to arrive at a conclusion about the current scenario of corporate treatment of PWD and critically ill employees. It also aims to provide insights and suggestions into tackling the challenges that are faced by employers, co-workers and subordinates of PWD and critically ill employees.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

5.1 METHODOLOGICAL APPROACH:

To determine the methods of data collection, it was integral that we first identified the nature of our project. As the main objectives of our project were rather exploratory and more dependent on non-numerical data, we concluded that our project was qualitative research. Our project was also aimed at tackling a real-world problem and providing solutions for it and hence it could be categorised as an applied research as well.

We were able to understand that the most suitable approach for data collection would be to interview HR personnel as well as disabled and critically ill employees of various companies. However, due to the inability of being able to go out due to the lockdown measures, we had to opt for an alternate method. We decided to conduct an online survey consisting of multiple choice as well as open ended questions. We believed that the combination of the quantitative and qualitative techniques would help us to gain in-depth insights as well as the required statistics.

5.2 METHOD OF DATA COLLECTION:

The online survey was created through Google Forms. The survey consisted of 7 multiple choice questions and 5 open-ended descriptive questions. The survey was mainly targeted at supervisors, HR personnel, co-workers and subordinates working in the corporate world. We sent the surveys to our personal contacts who we knew to be working in the corporate field as well as to working members we connected with through the platform of LinkedIn. Our target was to attain a minimum of 40 responses. Out of 160 prospects, we were able to obtain 52 responses within a period of one week. Out of the 52 individuals who filled out the survey, 57.7% held an employer/supervisor position, 32.7% were co-workers, and 9.6% were subordinated with respect to the disabled or critically ill employees.

Refer to Appendix 1 for the questionnaire

5.3 METHOD OF DATA ANALYSIS:

For analysing the data that we had obtained, we used both qualitative and quantitative methods, as done for the data collection. We made use of Google analytic tools such as pie charts and bar graphs for showcasing the required statistics. The open-ended answers of the individuals were interpreted according to the existing knowledge we had regarding the field. We were able to identify particular patterns and themes that were followed in various companies.

5.4 EVALUATION OF METHODOLOGY:

Considering the limitations that we had, an open-ended online survey was the best way for us to collect data and gain a better understanding of organizational practices regarding disabled and critically ill employees. We did face the disadvantage of not being able to interact with disabled and critically ill employees as it was difficult to identify them virtually. It would have been better for our project if we were able to gather their views and opinions about their workplace, which unfortunately we were not able to do. However, the data that we collected through the survey was significant enough to comprehend about the general scenario in workplaces. Overall, we believe that our method of research was beneficial towards achieving our stated objectives of this project.

DATA ANALYSIS

The online survey consisting of multiple-choice and open-ended questions was filled out by 52 individuals working as supervisors, co-workers and subordinates with respect to the PWD and critically ill employees. Upon analysis of the data, we were able to find out the following: When asked how favourable their company was towards hiring PWD and critically ill employees who had the necessary qualifications, 51.9% responded to be favourable, 46.2% somewhat favourable and 1.9% unfavourable. While the majority seemed to portray a positive attitude towards employing such employees, the existing workforce seemed to prove otherwise. In 53.8% of the companies, there were less than 5% of PWD and critically ill employees, whereas in 23.1% companies there were 5-10% of such employees. 21.2% of companies responded to having between 10-20% of PWD and critically ill employees, while only 1.9% of companies had more than 20% of such employees. 66.7% companies did not have any quota allocated for PWD and critically ill employees when hiring and only 33.3% companies did.


Fig. 6.1 Pie chart depicting disabled and critically ill employees in the existing workforce of companies

Coming to the existing initiatives and policies that companies had, to cater to PWD and critically ill employees, 73.5% responded to having flexible work hours and 69.4% responded to having special permissions for medical appointments and extra sick leaves. 24.5% responded to altering performance targets as needed, 12.2% responded to having special financial concessions and packages and 4.1% responded to having home-based work profiles.


Fig .6.2 Bar graph of various initiatives and policies adopted by companies for PWD and critically ill employees

Regarding the various facilities set up to comfortably accommodate PWD and critically ill employees 86.5% responded to having elevators, 71.2% responded to having wheelchair ramps and 57.7% responded to having separate restrooms. 53.8% responded to having special parking spaces and 26.9% responded to having recreational or activity spaces. Other than these given options, 3.8% responded to having dedicated dispensaries as well as special toilets for employees aided by wheelchairs.


Fig. 6.3 Bar graph depicting various facilities provided by companies for PWD and critically ill employees

The individuals were also asked about the use of assistive technology in their companies. Majority of the individuals responded that they had no assistive technology as such. Very few individuals responded by having augmented hearing loops, sign language prompters, Braille enabled documents and technological equipment that employees could get on request.

Only 4% companies reported to have a grievance cell for resolving any concerns raised by PWD and critically ill employees.

Spreading light to some of the continuous measures undertaken to retain PWD and critically ill employees, the companies had varied approaches. Flexibility was a key aspect that was mentioned on the behalf of several companies. Special benefits such as long-term insurance policies, incentives, medical counselling, fitness training and all were said to be favourable as well. Individuals also believed that companies providing equality in status and opportunity were also integral in retaining such employees. A few individuals mentioned the reservations that were present in the company for recruitments and promotions. Others talked about special review sessions to understand their concerns, rectify them and be encouraging so that they could evolve in their careers.

It was observed that 22% companies did not have any disability and illness workshops at all, while 24% reported to have one workshop per year. 46% reported to have 2-5 workshops per year and only 8% had more than 5 workshops per year.


Fig. 6.4 Pie chart depicting number of workshops conducted for disability and illness awareness

When asked about their personal thoughts on the company’s attitude on PWD and critically ill employees, most individuals responded that they were supportive and empathetic. Many commented that their company creates an open work environment where PWD and critically ill employees are treated equally and with respect.

Individuals were also asked to evaluate their companies and to suggest improvements they could make to better accommodate PWD and critically ill employees. Most of them recommended a reservation during hiring as well as more awareness campaigns. Others suggested for financial and medical benefits as well as technological equipment to facilitate their work. A good portion of individuals also suggested that a work from home option should be available so that such employees would not have to take the pains to commute.

CONCLUSION

The low intent to employ to real life employment ratio showed that employers and companies need to walk the talk about workplace equality. While there is a highly positive response when it comes to the mindset of employers, subordinates and co-workers towards PWD and critically ill employees, the apparent effects in terms of extra policies are still far from sufficient.

Organisations must ensure that there is a reservation for PWD and critically ill employees to cover for their physical limitations while looking for jobs. It was seen that only 33.33% companies had a quota for PWD and critically ill employees which is extremely low in the current economical scenarios that is the most challenging for employees with limitations. Organisations can make use of the government employment list to find PWD and critically ill employees with relevant qualifications.

While the response to having flexible work hours (73.5%) and extra medical leaves (69.4%) was somewhat satisfactory, it must have been tending more heavily towards 100%. However, it still showed promise and can be seen as hope for employees. A steep increase is still needed in home-based work profiles and altercation of performance targets. Employers must take humanitarian action based on moral-discretion for their employees even if organisation policies do not officially require them to do so. There was a majorly positive response to assistive infrastructure for PWD employees such as wheelchair ramps and elevators, but the occurrence of specialized assistive technology is still less. While the ability for a workplace to provide assistive technology mainly depends on the industry and the scope for business, employers should put an acceptable amount of budget aside to cater to these needs of PWD and critically ill employees. Organizations need to make recreational and activity spaces a mandatory element of their workplace, which would be relieving not only to PWD and critically ill employees but to the workforce as a whole. It is crucial that organizations cater to the health and well-being of all their employees and implement policies according to that the organizations can take aid from the Government which offers plenty of privileges and concessions for catering to disabled and critically ill employees.

Lastly, a grievance cell for PWD and critically ill employees should be arranged by all the organisations. Employers should ensure that at least 30% of members of the cell are PWD or critically ill employees. The grievance cell must ensure that there is at least one workshop for illness and disabilities awareness per year. With collective collaboration and informed efforts of employers and co-workers, the struggle of PWD and critically ill employees can be lessened in the professional world, especially the cutthroat corporate sector.

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Author’s Information: Abhay Kesharwani,
BBA(Bachelor of Business Administration), Symbiosis Centre For Management Studies

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