Retaining Employees who Acquire a Disability
A significant number of employees acquire a disability over the course of their working lives. This may be due to the onset of illness, to an accident or for other reasons. The two most frequent reasons for long-term absence from work are musculo-skeletal problems such as back pain, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. In most cases, the person will be capable of continuing to work, provided some simple steps are taken. It makes good business sense for employers to retain staff who know the work, and avoid the expense of recruitment and retraining.
The focus should be on people’s capacity to do the job, and on the appropriate supports to enable them do this. Many people after acquiring a disability can continue to work at their old job, with perhaps some modification to their workstation or equipment, or minor changes to work tasks. Others may be able to work in new roles.
Research carried out in this area indicates that the longer someone is out of work, the less likely they are to return. Early intervention and maintaining contact with the person who is out, are key steps towards supporting them back into work. It is considered best practice to set out the relevant steps in written policies and procedures that are communicated to all staff.
Managers should carry out a return to work assessment involving the person, his or her doctor and the employer’s occupational health specialist to assess what tasks the person will be able to do on return to work. This assessment should identify any supports that will assist the person to do their job, and it is important to have them in place before the person returns to work. Sometimes a phased return to work, or phased resumption of particular work tasks, can help a person get back to work sooner. Being at work can be an important part of physical and mental rehabilitation.
Often the steps to accommodate employees to do their original job are simple ones – minor changes to work tasks, different start or finish times, a modified workstation or assistive technology. Under employment equality legislation, employers are legally obliged to provide reasonable accommodation to staff with a disability, where the cost is not disproportionate.
There are grants from FÁS for some employers under the Employee Retention Grant scheme which can provide access to expert help to look at what needs to be done, and may also support measures for a successful return to work plan, eg, retraining or equipment.
Line managers play a key part in the retention process. It is important that they receive appropriate training so that they can play their part, support the person to reintegrate back to work, manage and evaluate performance in the changed circumstances, and encourage the individual to pursue their career goals.
Work colleagues also have an important role in welcoming a colleague back, in working as a team, and in sharing the social life of the workplace. It is important to ask the person what they would like their colleagues to know about their disability.
The national Disability authority has produced a document called: Retaining Employees who acquire a disability: A guide for employers which is available at www.nda.ie
Supporting Employees with Mental Health Difficulties
The Equality Authority and Seechange launched new leaflets last month on Equality and Mental Health – what the law means for your workplace.
This guide provides information for employers on their responsibilities towards employees and potential employees with experience of mental health issues. The guide explains the legal requirement for employers to provide reasonable accommodation for employees and potential employees with experience of mental health difficulties.
Read the new guide here.