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Beyond ramps and restrooms: what's due the disabled.

As of January 26, 1992, many U.S. businesses that have yet to comply with the requirements of Title III of the new Americans with Disabilities Act could face costly discrimination suits. And the deadline for complying with Title I of the Act quickly approaches.

According to a study conducted by the Philadelphia-based law firm of Blank, Rome, Comisky & McCauley and Alexander & Alexander Consulting Group, at the end of 1991, 25 percent of the mid-Atlantic businesses surveyed had taken no action to prepare for the ADA.

The most recent legislation is not entirely new ground for companies, explains Greg Parliman, a partner in the Labor and Employment Law Department of Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch, a New Jersey law firm. Previous laws in essence asked companies to hire the disabled, provided the hiring didn't disrupt the workplace in any way. That may be a reason some employers are dragging their feet - they believe they already comply. But the new legislation is tougher, Parliman warns.

Title III of the Act, already in effect, demands physical access for the disabled to workplaces and commerical facilities, and Title I demands equal access to employment in the public and private sectors. Employers with 25 or more employees must satisfy Title I by July 26, 1992, and employers with 15 to 24 employers have until July 26, 1994.

Most experts on disability law agree that the vagueness of the wording of the legislation is another problem. For instance, who's considered disabled? Parliman explains the definition is fairly broad: "In the statute, it's defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as walking, talking, seeing, or hearing." Some estimates say one-fifth of the nation fits this description.

One of the biggest changes in the legislation, Parliman points out, is that a larger employer now will find it virtually impossible to prove that making a physical change to a public space within the business will cause the firm "undue hardship." Under earlier legislation, he explains, demonstrating that a construction job cost as little as $1,000 could earn a company relief from the obligation. "The new Act radically modifies the definition of undue hardship," says Parliman, and takes into consideration the size and financial wherewithal of a company.

Also targeting larger companies are support groups for the disabled.

"We found that advocates for the disabled are galvanizing their constituents - perhaps more aggressively than many executives think - to put business to the task of complying," says David F. Girard-diCarlo, managing partner at Blank, Rome. The group's findings suggest that advocacy groups plan to identify one major firm that is making little effort to comply and publicly use that firm as an example.

While three-fourths of the companies Blank, Rome surveyed say they've taken some action to prepare for the ADA, that doesn't mean they've committed dollars. At the beginning of 1992, only 31 percent of the businesses had invested any money in compliance. But 48 percent do expect to make expenditures in 1992. (See the chart below for a breakdown in exactly how much companies expect to spend as a percentage of their revenue.) And many of the businesses feel certain the costs associated with ADA compliance will increase over the next five years.

What should your company be doing right now? Parliman suggests the following:

* Under Title III, if you're a tenant, check your lease to see who's responsible for complying with the Act. In many cases, Parliman explains, the tenant is by contract liable for any costs associated with making changes in the tenant's area, while the landlord pays only for changes made in the building's common areas. If you find your lease is written in this way, you may want to modify your lease provisions when you renew, he suggests.

* To meet your Title I obligations, first make sure your human resources people understand the new rules.

* Revise your equal employment opportunity statement to include your policy against discrimination on the basis of physical handicap, then post the statement in a well-traveled area.

* Reexamine all company job descriptions for signs of discrimination.

* Be certain you have in place a clearly defined internal complaint procedure for EEO problems.

* And remember you cannot ask during a job interview, "Are you disabled?" However, you can ask, "Can you perform the essential functions of the job?"

Parliman says many of his firm's Fortune 500 clients already have reviewed their hiring practices and performed other compliance checks. But what about those that haven't? Potential penalties for non-compliance, he says, are those that result from a discrimination suit against your company: You can ultimately be liable for back pay, for attorneys' fees, and for compensatory damages, although there is a cap on the latter.

Beyond structural modifications and changes in your hiring and employment practices, another possibility under Title I may mean additional people on your payroll. For instance, if a qualified visually impaired person applies for and wins a job with your company, explains Parliman, under the ADA you may be required to hire a reader for the disabled employee.


Where do CEOs grow? As of early 1991, the most CEOs - 20.5 percent - had been picked from the field of finance, followed by 19.1 percent from technical fields and 18.5 percent from operations.

The numbers were compiled by Management Practice Inc., a New York-based management consulting firm. MPI's Meyrick Payne explains that each year the company analyzes Forbes' annual publication profiling CEOs at the nation's top 1,000 companies to come up with the background check.

"The qualities sought by directors when appointing the CEO are increasingly determined by the need to build stockholder value," MPI says in its report. "This quest puts pressure on the board to select the candidate most likely to ensure that the profits are as robust as possible, the price/earnings ratio above the industry average, the dividend rate stable or growing, and the stock and bond risk factors as low as possible."

MPI's findings over five years show that CEOs who have strong financial educations and professional experience are "best suited" to these challenges.

The firm also concludes that corporations are returning to the holding-company structure. That means only crucial functions remain at headquarters. The functions most likely to survive the cut are:

* Finance, where merger and acquisition talks begin;

* Administration, where cost-reduction savvy often is a key talent; and

* Technical, to capitalize on information-technology opportunities.

Interestingly, when the researchers at Management Practice looked at the backgrounds of our newest CEOs - the 93 who were appointed in 1990 - they found that an overwhelming 34.4 percent came from technical fields, with finance a distant second at 19.4 percent.

Are we witnessing the beginnings of a trend? Probably not. MPI reassuringly adds, "This upswing does not disturb the long-held dominance of finance as the most likely CEO background on a cumulative basis."


If you're not inclined to cart home your personal computer and your facsimile hook-up - or if you don't even use the tools when you're at work - you may slowly be falling behind in the business race.

Late last year, Fortune magazine profiled eight executives and consultants who stay on top of the business world by never moving far from their laptops, printers, even fax machines. And these executives don't all work for high-technology outfits.

In its Executive Perquisites Alert newsletter, Wyatt Data Services reports that, in 1991, 21.1 percent of the organizations they surveyed provided as a perk personal computers for their top executives to use at home. That number is up 9 percent from 12.1 percent in 1987.

So why are some executives still hesitant to use personal computers? The possibilities are several: Some simply can't type; others would rather rely on their administrative teams to handle the computing. "But the real reason executives don't use computers," suggests Mary Boone, author of Leadership and the Computer, "is that 99 percent simply don't know what computers can do for them personally. They have no idea of the power of the computer as a leadership tool."

John Canepa, chairman and president of Old Kent Financial Corporation and proud owner of an office without a computer terminal, offers another reason: "I'd rather get around and meet my people."

Does Charisma Count?

Yes, the right professional background is vital when it comes to priming an executive for the top post at a company, but personal characteristics and leadership skills are important, too.

The most effective leaders are intelligent, determined, forward-looking, honest, and straightforward, or so say 204 vice presidents of U.S. companies listed in The Corporate 1000.

The VPs responded to a survey conducted by Pittsburgh-based Management Science & Development asking each to characterize his or her president (often also the CEO) as effective or ineffective and then to dissect the boss' style.

Leadership skills ranked in this order: persuasiveness, analytical skills, decisiveness, conceptual skills, speaking skills, listening skills, creativity, diplomacy, self-planning skills, and group-planning skills.

According to MSD, "Effective leaders are viewed as being less ambitious and less independent that their less effective counterparts."

Under personal traits, distinguished from personal characteristics, self-confident ranks first; energetic ranks second; optimistic is eighth; socially alert, 13th; charismatic, 16th; warm, 19th; relaxed, 23rd; liberal, 34th; and shy, 37th.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Americans with Disabilities Act
Author:Couch, Robin L.
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:In the name of education.
Next Article:A global economy is not the wave of the future.

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