The World and Disability : Quotas or No Quotas?

How does the global employment world ensure that equal workplace opportunities are available to both the normally abled and differently abled? It has been found that people with disabilities are two and a half times less likely to have a job than non-disabled people. This in turn contributes to significantly higher rates of poverty in households headed by disabled people. Governments therefore have an interest in trying to level the playing field. The question is; “How?” .

Two models

There are essentially two models available for reducing these anomalies. The first relies on anti-discrimination laws, monitoring and the concept of corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) to encourage equality in an employer’s recruitment choices. The second involves government imposed hiring quotas with the possibility of severe penalties for breach. Many countries across Europe and elsewhere have adopted this quota model and international employers must be conscious of the different approaches that  have been taken when  implementing it. The consequences of non-compliance can be attention grabbing. In some jurisdictions global employers have suffered seven figure fines, in US dollars, for failing to meet disability quotas over several years. It was no defence that, despite genuine efforts, the employer had been unable to find differently abled people with the right skills for the roles available.

Examples of Countries using Quotas

Under the Austrian system, for example, the relevant quota law covers all of the disabled  between the ages of 15 – 64, irrespective of the cause of their disability. Disability is defined as the effect of impairment based on a psychologically, physiologically or anatomically abnormal condition that has a duration of more than 6 months, or is expected to last more than 6 months. All public and private sector employers are subject to a quota of 4% of an undertaking’s workforce. The quota law requires employers with more than 24 employees to employ one registered disabled person per 25 employees. In order to count towards the quota, a person must be certified by a medical doctor as having only 50% of the capabilities of a nondisabled person. Furthermore, hiring a  wheelchair user or blind worker, who is  below 19 years and above 55 years of age or who is above 50 years old with 30% of the capabilities of a nondisabled person, are counted as double when measuring quota compliance. This acts as an incentive to hire both younger and older people with disabilities. Companies which fail to meet the quota are liable to pay a compulsory “equalisation levy” of at least 238 euros per month. On the other hand, companies can receive an equivalent amount as an incentive payment for each disabled apprentice they take on.

By contrast in France the law requires that companies having a total workforce of more than 20 employees must ensure that at least 6% of their personnel are disabled workers. However, the French quota system provides the employers with an alternative to the recruitment of differently abled persons.  If employers do not meet the quota obligation they must make an annual contribution to a fund for the vocational integration of people with disabilities. Depending on the size of the organisation, this contribution can be equivalent to 600 times the minimum hourly rate per job which has not been filled and can be tripled to 1500 times the minimum hourly rate in cases in which enterprises fail to meet the quota for 3 years consecutively. But despite these penalties many French employers end up paying the contribution rather than employing a person with a disability.

Examples of other European countries that use a quota system for differently abled workers include Germany, Italy, and Spain. In Germany all employers with a workforce of 20 or more are required to fill 5% of their jobs with  severely disabled employees. If the employer fails to comply with the quota then it  is required to pay a monthly penalty of 105 euros if the differently abled workforce is between 3% and 5%, 180 euros if between 2% and 3% and 260 euros for less than 2% of the workforce. In Italy, employers have a quota up to 7% for differently abled people, while in Spain employers with a workforce of over 50 employees must make available  2% of posts for disabled workers.

Moving to Eastern Europe quotas are common and are strictly enforced. Many Asian countries also provide for quotas for disabled people. In India employers are required to reserve up to 3% of places for differently abled people . China requires employers to reserve no less than 1.5% of all job opportunities for persons with disabilities and the ones who fail to comply with the  quota have to pay a fine to a ‘Disabled Persons’ Employment Security Fund.  In Japan, the disabled quota rate is 1.8% of the workforce and the penalty for breach is a monthly fine of 50000 yen.

Examples of Non-quota Countries

The Anglo Saxon world has preferred the non-quota approach.  The US Labor Department is in the process of finalising rules for what it calls “disability benchmarking’ rather than quotas.  Under these rules US corporates will need to show that they have a total group workforce which is 7% differently abled in order to qualify for federal contracts. This is very significant as a large number of private sector US jobs depend on Government contracts.

The UK abandoned its quota system in 1995, preferring instead to rely on legislation  making it generally unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in the hiring process and in the  employment relationship.

Best Practice in any Event

Notwithstanding quotas, benchmarking or CSR, companies operating in the global employment market  should  hire suitably qualified differently abled people as a matter of best practice.  Research has shown several benefits in doing so, including: higher retention rates through greater levels of loyalty and commitment, a widening of the talent and life experience pool and an improved employer brand, both locally and globally, all of which are clearly in the commercial interests of the global business and its shareholders.