The last company I visited in Seattle is Costco. The headquarters is located in Issaquah, which is 30-minute drive east from Seattle. Costco stores are called “warehouses”, and there are 703 warehouses all over the world (as of April 9, 2016). Personally I had not been to any warehouses in Japan and US before. Therefore I was looking forward to visiting the warehouse right next to Costco headquarters. First, I interviewed Brenda Weber, Assistant Vice President of Human Resource.
For employment, Costco first focuses on whether or not an applicant meets the qualifications for a position. I have heard the same priority in other American companies. However, at Costco, the vast majority of employees work at warehouses, which requires more physical movements as an essential function of the job. For example, some employees need to collect shopping carts from the parking lot outside the warehouse and some employees need to go in and out of a big freezer or cooler on forklift equipment to stock frozen food or perishable food.
For each position, Costco provides a “Job Analysis” which provides a detailed explanation of the essential functions. For example, a job analysis describes how often (never, occasionally, frequently, continuously) you would be standing, walking, sitting, lifting, pushing, or pulling when performing the essential functions of the position. The job analysis can be brought to a doctor to make sure that the employee is capable of working properly under these conditions with or without an accommodation. The doctors would write a note to Costco notifying them if an accommodation is needed.
During the interview process, applicants would declare and explain if they can work with or without accommodation after checking through the job analysis. If an applicant says they need an accommodation, Costco would interact with the applicant to better understand their restrictions. If the applicant and Costco do not have ideas for a reasonable accommodation that would allow the applicant (or employee) to perform the essential functions of the position, JAN (Job Accommodation Network) works with Costco to give ideas for accommodations.
Even if applicants say they do not need any accommodations, and they have a visible disability, a hiring manager might ask the applicant to demonstrate how they would perform the job requirements. For example, if some hiring managers haven’t employed a person in a wheelchair, they simply do not know how the person in wheelchair can work in a particular position. Or, even if they had hired someone in a wheelchair before, each person and position will have different needs and requirements. The person in the wheelchair is the only one who can show how they would perform the job. By demonstrating, both the employer and the applicant can be on the same page and continue through the hiring process.
After my interview with Brenda, we went across the street to the warehouse next to Costco’s headquarters. Soon after entering the warehouse, I noticed a salesman in the section of the warehouse where tv’s are stocked. His name is Tom (allonym). He looks like a normal salesman at first glance, but I soon noticed his prosthetic legs from under his shorts. Brenda told me that Tom began his career working at Costco as a person without disabilities. About 10 years ago, however, he lost his legs due to an automobile accident. When Tom came back to work, he used a wheelchair but he is now working with the use of his prosthetic legs. Besides Tom, I saw some other employees with disabilities who worked in the same warehouse.
Unlike Japan, the US does not have a quota system for hiring people with disabilities and it is illegal to ask specific applicants if they have a disability. Therefore, Costco has not tracked the number of employees with disabilities. However, given the broad definition of what is considered a disability in the U.S., Brenda estimates that there would be at least one employee with disabilities at each warehouse.