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MARK WAFER

Employees with disabilities can have a positive impact on profitability Add to ...

Mark Wafer is a Tim Hortons franchise owner in Toronto and an advocate for Canadians with disabilities.

I’m a long-time Tim Hortons franchise owner with six restaurants in Toronto. Over the years, we’ve employed more than 125 employees with disabilities in meaningful and competitively paid positions. Today, 46 of our 250 employees identify as having a disability. These disabilities range from significant intellectual challenges to deafness, blindness, mental-health issues, physical disabilities and episodic disabilities such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. They hold positions in our company ranging from entry level to senior management.

Recently, our company reached out to former Goodwill employees who had lost their jobs as that organization closed its doors in the Toronto region. These individuals are marginalized workers and many have disabilities. We reached out to them because we know the massive barriers they will face in finding new jobs.

The unemployment rate for Canadians with disabilities is somewhere between 60 per cent and 70 per cent. Officially, Statistics Canada says it’s about 50 per cent, but that doesn’t take into account the many Canadians who have no marketplace attachment, such as the 450,000 school graduates from the past five years who have disabilities and have never worked even a single day. (Of those, about 270,000 have a postsecondary education.) But they aren’t counted in unemployment numbers, so we know that the official numbers are conservative.

Imagine, then: If Canadians with disabilities who hold economics degrees and MBAs are unable to find work only because they have disabilities, what hope do the former Goodwill employees have in the search for new employment?

Our shout-out to the Goodwill employees went viral on social media. We received an enormous response. We will indeed be hiring some of those workers at our stores, but the most significant feedback I received was from other companies and corporations that said they had never thought about hiring a person with a disability. In 2016, I find that absurd and frustrating. It’s unacceptable.

More than 15 per cent of Canadians have a disability. Why do employers continue to ignore or fear such a large and untapped labour talent pool? How can an employer say they haven’t given much thought to this massive demographic group?

The answer is simple: Employers believe in a series of stereotypes, myths and misperceptions about including disabled people on their payrolls. They believe disabled employees will work slower and be less productive, need more time off, work less safely or be less innovative. Or that the accommodations required will be too expensive. These are all myths.

In fact, including workers with disabilities in real jobs with equal pay tends to have a direct and positive impact on a business’s profitability. Workers with disabilities are more productive, work more safely, stay longer, require less supervision, are more innovative and have less absenteeism.

In my business, for example, the absenteeism rate for my 46 employees with disabilities is 85 per cent lower than the 200 employees without disabilities. My annual employee turnover is 38 per cent, versus the 100-per-cent norm in the quick-service restaurant sector. I have never filled out a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claim for a workplace injury to a worker with a disability. And workers with disabilities have different problem-solving skills – and “different” is exactly how workplace innovation is bred.

This all adds up to an economic case. Being an inclusive employer has a major economic impact on a business once capacity has being built, yet most Canadian companies are still too fearful to hire a qualified, educated and skilled candidate who has a disability. They almost always choose the less-qualified and non-disabled applicant.

The economic impact to my business has been profound. Employee morale is higher over all – the turnover rate for my non-disabled staff is 55 per cent, just more than half the norm. And customers want to shop in retail outlets that are inclusive. That means more sales and more transactions.

Canadian businesses must realize that excluding the disabled, willfully or otherwise, is holding them back. A business cannot consider itself to be an outstanding employer if it excludes 15 per cent of the Canadian population.

There is one more compelling figure that should make companies want to get on board: Although 15.5 per cent of Canadians identify as having a disability, adding in those individuals’ direct family members brings the number of Canadians directly affected by disability to 53 per cent.

Now that is a figure no business can afford to ignore.

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