Resources and solutions for complex disability claims

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In the first part of this series on solutions for small employers, we explored the importance of staying connected and offering help to your employees during basic disability situations. But what should small businesses do when the situation gets more complex?

Often, complexity stems from the lack of information or conflicting information around what accommodations an employee needs to be successful in the workplace. There are several simple solutions to this problem.

Understand the problem
Start by understanding the problem before you jump to solutions. You and your employees can get frustrated when you start with a solution, instead of with the problem.

For instance, if your employee hands you a doctor’s note that says she needs a $5,000 lifting device in order to successfully return to work, you should start at the beginning by asking the employee what problem the device will solve. Maybe you’ll find out that the obstacle she is trying to overcome isn’t even something you need her to do. For example, does your receptionist really need to be the one to lift 50-pound boxes of paper off the loading dock?

Explore resources and solutions
When you are able to define the specific problems you can enlist the help of resources. Here are a few of the resources available to you:

  1. Disability carrier — Naturally, your disability carrier is an excellent resource for assistance. It can help you with the following:
    1. Clarify potential challenges
      The disability carrier’s clinical staff can work directly with the employee’s treating physician to clarify the potential challenges the employee may face when returning to the workplace. In addition, the clinical and vocational staff should have a wealth of ideas about how to overcome those challenges.
    2. Define risk factors
      Having an ergonomist, occupational therapist or other appropriate professional to provide an on-site assessment is extremely valuable in defining risk factors and outlining scenarios that are designed to allow the employee to work safely, successfully and productively.
  2. Vendors — Office furniture vendors can be good resources for questions about common situations. Ergonomic chairs, keyboard trays, mice and other common ergonomic items are found at office furniture vendors. Ask vendors for assistance in the following areas:
    1. Recommendations
      These vendors often have staff members who can make recommendations for specific situations.
    2. Demos
      A vendor may be able to furnish “loaner” or “demo” equipment prior to purchase.
    3. Warranties
      Vendors also can help employers understand the warranty coverage for the major furniture brands and help facilitate obtaining repair and replacements.
  3. Job Accommodation Network — JAN is a respected resource that provides one-on-one professional guidance with disability employment issues.
    1. Searchable Online Accommodation Resource
      The SOAR program is an encyclopedia of potential accommodations that is searchable by condition. Check out the section on back conditions.
    2. Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act
      JAN is also a wealth of knowledge when it comes to navigating ADAAA.

Here’s a great “self-service” website for employees. The site teaches employees to adjust the equipment in their workstation, such as their chair and monitor. Often, minor changes can make an employee more comfortable, thereby preventing the need for time off from work.

This is the second post in a series of entries on small-employer solutions.

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