You head into the office on Monday morning to find an envelope on your desk from an employee. It happens to be a doctor’s note that says:
“Patient was seen in the office today. Off work due to medical reasons. Will be reassessed in 2 weeks.”
What is an employer to do? This scenario often happens in the workplace; however, more often than not, we just do not have all the information to really understand how to manage these situations. We can become slighted and feel like our employees are visiting “Dr. Summer Off,” and this is not always the case.
Some interesting facts:
In 2017, one in five (22%) of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over – or about 6.2 million individuals – had one or more disabilities
Mental health is one of the largest long-term disability claims categories. In 2015, mental health issues accounted for 22% of all claims. In just two years, that percentage rose 7% to 29% in 2017
For most of us, our careers and the work we do play an important role in our lives; it provides us a sense of community, belonging to something bigger, and it may even give us a sense of purpose. So, when an employee sustains an injury, illness, or other event that prevents them from fully participating in their work, it is important to support their return to work in a meaningful way.
Whether your organization is big or small, if you have employees, it is important to have a planned approach to managing disabilities. A Disability Management Program provides you the framework to work within for successfully returning employees back to work safely, quickly, and effectively. This applies to work-related or non-work-related injuries or illnesses.
Disability Management is tricky business, but it does not have to be! Here are a few tips for developing your approach to managing disabilities.
First things first, what does disability mean anyway? A disability is any form of physical or mental impairment that restricts a person’s ability to participate in activities or movement. (The legal definition can be found under the Ontario Human Rights Code, which is also used under AODA.)
The cost of absences due to injury or illness can be high. There are direct and indirect costs:
Increase in benefit premiums (STD & LTD)
Increase in WSIB/WCB premiums
Time to administer and manage claims whether done internally or by a 3rd party
Costs associated with any penalties that may be incurred due to delays or lower service standards
Recruitment and training cost for replacement or temporary employees
Reduced employee morale
As an employer, creating a win-win outcome for all parties is the goal.
Your organization is unique, and so are your employees; therefore, your Disability Management Program will be just as unique. That being said, you will want to focus on building a program with a strategic approach. Let’s look at some steps to developing your disability management program.
It all starts with prevention and is a critical component of workplace health and safety. Prevention should be part of your overall Occupational Health and Safety Program. When you also incorporate health and wellness into your overall prevention approach, you create the ability to empower your employees to take control of their overall health and wellbeing; therefore, reducing the risk of injury or illness outside of work.
What would we typically see as part of a prevention program?
Education and Communication
Hazard recognition, prevention, and control programs
Health and wellness initiatives (some health and wellness programs provide the employer with anonymized data on the specific health factors and risk of the current workforce, which enables the employer to implement targeted wellness programs)
Employee assistance programs
Proactive attendance management program
Reviewing your historical track record of injury, illness, and lost time data to identify gaps and actions for improvement
Communicating to build trust with your employees is one of the most important things you can do, and it starts before an injury or illness occurs. Open communication builds trust between you and your employee. Taking an interest in them on a professional and personal level will create the kind of working relationship that will be required if your employee sustains an injury or becomes ill.
Start early and maintain regular contact during a period of injury or illness, whether at work or away from work
Your communications should focus not only on the management of the disability but also on keeping them part of the team if they are away from work recovering. Think of it like a sports team; when a player is hurt and in a recovery period, they are generally at all the games still. They sit on the sidelines or bench until they are ready to get back into the game. They didn’t miss a beat!
Educating employees on their rights and obligations during a period of illness or injury
Ensuring your employees know what to expect as part of the disability management process
Educating and training your leadership on how to manage disabilities, the things to do and not to do
Early Intervention Strategies
Being proactive in the early stages where you may have employees at risk for injury or illness is key. Practices for managing injury/illness in the early stages:
Stay at work initiatives.
Focused education on the type of injuries or illnesses that your particular workforce is susceptible to
Your workforce may be diverse, which means you will need programs that are targeted to each specific group – front line employees, aging employees, young workers, leaders, etc.
Preventative accommodations to remove barriers and reduce chances of an employee needed time away from work to recover
Recovery & return to work Strategies
When you have an employee off work due to an injury or illness, returning them to work as soon as it is medically safe to do so is your priority. The longer an employee is off work, the more difficult it is to return them. Having policies and practices in place to manage this:
Early and safety work re-integration programs and policies:
Ensures consistency and all employees follow the same but personalized process
Defining the roles and responsibilities of all parties to the process
Setting the expectations for the employee
Keeps the lines of communication open
Accommodation policies and guidelines:
The accommodation process is collaborative and will involve external parties (medical professionals, WSIB/WCB)
Facilitates the process for gathering the functional information, identifying accommodation options, creating a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan, monitoring that plan, and adjusting as needed
There are times when disabilities are permanent, leaving the employee unable to perform the essential duties of their own position. In this case, your policies would outline the process for transitional job accommodations on a permanent basis
What’s in it for you to implement a Disability Management Program?
Higher employee morale
Reduced absenteeism and lost time hours
Consistency in your approach leaves you with a legally defensible case if anything were to go sour.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with navigating disability management for a win-win solution, please reach out to us here at Alliance Disability Solutions, a division of H2R Business Solutions; we can assist!