Intermittent leave: Separating fact from fiction

Intermittent leave: separating fact from fiction

For some HR managers, there can be gray areas surrounding how to properly help employees who are using intermittent leave. You might find yourself wondering what you can and can’t ask employees in regard to their health. Or you might not know how you can work with a disability carrier to implement accommodations — or if carriers even help in these situations.

Balancing act
Proper management of intermittent leave is essential. For one, it can reduce employee lost productivity. It also can help an employer avoid the risk of a fine, audit or legal action — all consequences of improperly managed leave. As I’ve mentioned before, the root cause of an employee’s intermittent leave sometimes can be helped by providing him or her with simple accommodations. These accommodations can help employees more effectively perform their jobs and/or lessen any pain or symptoms while at work.

Employers often tell me they’re not sure how to separate the facts of what they can do for their employees from the fiction they may hear as they navigate the intricacies of intermittent leave requests. I’ve helped employers sort through the gray areas related to intermittent leave. Here are the two common reactions I hear during the accommodations process — with insights on how you can help.

Fact or fiction: “I can’t ask my employee questions about his/her condition.”
FICTION: Employers often think they can’t talk with an employee about his or her job struggles because they aren’t supposed to know about his or her medical condition. Or they worry that knowing certain details will result in noncompliance.

Although it’s true you can’t outwardly ask about an employee’s condition, there certainly are questions you can ask that help gauge your employee’s ability to safely perform the job.

I’ve found a simple and sincere, “How are you doing?” can go a long way in helping an employee who may be struggling with a medical condition. This conversation-starter may lead to offering the right assistance.

Fact or fiction: “Hold on — there are disability carriers that can help me implement accommodations?”
FACT: Yes! Many disability carriers have programs to help an employee stay at work and be productive through an illness or injury. Some carriers even have staff that have a vast understanding of chronic illnesses, musculoskeletal conditions and mental health disorders.

These nurses, vocational and mental health case managers can help make sure your employee is receiving the right type of workplace accommodation that is suitable for his or her specific illness or injury. These specialists also can step in and help implement, source and follow up on an accommodation.

Separating fact from fiction and understanding the gray areas related to intermittent leave and accommodation can help reduce leaves and increase productivity, rather than facing disruptive and often unpredictable absences.

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