Recently, I was talking with a colleague about how far one company we work with has come in building a culture that supports employees who are dealing with a medical condition at work.
Lack of a plan
When we first started working with this company, there was no formal plan in place to help an employee either stay at work — and avoid a disability leave — or return to work after being out on a claim. The absence of a system in addressing an employee’s disabling condition not only resulted in many missed opportunities to proactively help an employee before his or her condition became more serious, but it could have resulted in legal action from being noncompliant with federal regulations.
These accommodation decisions were previously handled by an employee’s direct manager, none of whom had vocational or rehabilitation experience. Also, managers were driven by productivity demands, and seemed to prioritize production goals rather than find the right type of assistance for an employee in need of an accommodation. Managers also didn’t have any insight into the benefits that could proactively accommodate an employee.
The wakeup call for the company’s executive team came when it realized how much employee absences were costing the company. The company wasn’t just paying for absent employees; but also included the cost of presenteeism — lost productivity due to employees working through a medical condition — and the medical costs to treat these conditions. All of these costs were adding up.
The company’s executive team created a group, with a priority to address employee accommodations. Our Workplace Possibilities℠ experts worked with the team to build a top-down accommodations approach that included:
- Putting a plan in place. The company changed its policy and has provided guidance to managers to help them understand what to do when an employee is working through a medical condition. This new policy allowed an employee to take 30 to 60 days to transition back to his or her normal job demands following a disability leave. It also allowed managers to restructure breaks. For example, rather than one 20-minute break, they could offer an employee two 10-minute breaks. This slight change can make all the difference in an employee’s productivity.
- Training managers on expectations. The goal was to help managers feel more comfortable accommodating an employee while staying compliant with legal regulations. The company now runs training programs throughout the year on policies and procedures for managers. A manager can call in the accommodations team for assistance and is aware of the available resources to get outside help, such as a Workplace Possibilities consultant.
- Allowing for transitional work agreements. Before this new policy, a manager would try to accommodate an employee for a month, and then terminate him or her if they didn’t improve. The new policy allowed for reduced production goals while an employee adjusted to his or her accommodation. For example, if an employee had a visual disability, the Workplace Possibilities consultant would help by indicating how long it could take the employee to get used to his or her new adaptive equipment.
The company’s mission is thriving with this new process. Not only is the company more compliant overall, it’s more able to help its own people with the assistance they need to stay at work during, or return to work after, a medical condition.