This paper examines evidence of “ritual conformity” with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), with a focus upon the employment of individuals with mental disabilities or illnesses. We view the ADA as an important “rational myth” in the institutional environment of American business which enunciates a new set of legal and normative standards for employment of individuals many believe to be unemployable. In conforming to the mandates of the ADA, businesses may display coercive isomorphism; hiring those with mental disabilities because they fear the coercive effects of the law. Evidence of coercive isomorphism is consistent with a more materialist/instrumental view of the relationship between legal mandates and organizations. However, drawing from the law and society tradition, we articulate a culturalist/constructionist alternative which posits that because the law is often ambiguous, contested and symbolic, organizational decision makers are responsive to normative appeals and cognitive framings. Ritual conformity may then take the form of normative isomorphism. Important to either form of institutional isomorphism for compliance) are the beliefs employers hold about the employability of those with mental disabilities. Consequently, we argue that the practical meaning of the ADA depends on the ways in which it is interpreted and enacted by the organizations that it supposedly governs. To capture this enactment process in mid-stream, we report early empirical evidence on the organizational response of a random sample of businesses to the ADA requirements governing the hiring of persons with mental disabilities. Extensive telephone interviews were completed with 117 employers (representing a 61.6% response rate) in one urban SMSA with a low unemployment rate. The majority of the employers surveyed had received information about the ADA, and most had a reasonably good understanding of the law. Over a third of the employers (37.3%) had indeed hired an individual with a mental disability since the ADA went into effect in 1992, and a third (33.3%) made special recruiting efforts to hire individuals with a mental disability. Receiving information about the ADA was significantly related to such proactive policies; larger companies were also more likely to exhibit compliance to the ADA by hiring, or having specific policies for the recruitment of individuals with mental disabilities. In examining the sources of such ritual conformity to the ADA, we found evidence of both coercive and normative isomorphism, and that ritual conformity was also associated with beliefs about the abilities of those with mental illnesses. Employers who were not in compliance with the ADA were more likely to be uncomfortable with potential employees with a previous mental hospitalization or employees taking anti-psychotic medication. Furthermore, we found important differences between those organizations which expressed coercive rationales for compliance and those which expressed normative rationales; specifically employers expressing normative isomorphism were more likely to have hired individuals with mental disabilities prior to the ADA and to exhibit ritual conformity to the ADA. Businesses expressing coercive rationales for compliance were more likely to hold stigmatizing attitudes and less likely to exhibit ritual conformity to the ADA. Our data suggest a potential synthesis between material and cultural models of law whereby early compliers with a new law are more likely to exhibit normative rationales and to respond more directly to the normative messages of the law, or else implement policies they would have otherwise adopted on their own. Over time, normatively driven proaction will foster mimetic isomorphism, and resistant firms (or those holding ideological constructions which run counter to the normative mandates of the law) will move toward a profit-maximizing mixture of compliance and evasion; complying largely because of the coercive threat of the law.
Scheid, T. and Suchman, M. (2001), "Ritual conformity to the Americans with disabilities act: Coercive and normative isomorphism", Hartwell, S. and Schutt, R. (Ed.) The Organizational Response to Social Problems (Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 105-140. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0196-1152(01)80008-9Download as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2001, Emerald Group Publishing Limited