The impact of an employee’s disabling condition in the workforcecan cause a ripple effect.

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An employee living with an illness, injury or chronic conditionis not just trying to manage his or her ailment — which, in anycircumstance, can be challenging enough. Depending on the conditionand its severity, an employee also may be attempting to work, whichcan often bring its own set of challenges for both the employee andyour client.

The stress of working through a medical condition

Often, an employee with a medical condition — which could beanything from arthritis or migraines, to depression or cancer — istrying to find the right type of treatment to manage his or hercondition. This may be occurring under the radar, as an employeecould be afraid that being more vocal about his or her conditioncould bring unwanted attention to their diagnosis.

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This covert attitude may happen so that the employee avoidsbeing labeled by managers or co-workers due to his or herdiagnosis. This fear of being labeled may cause the employee torefrain from asking for help to stay at work because they think itwould be too expensive, or cause a burden on his or her employerand co-workers. Or, maybe they think bringing attention to theircondition could make others in the organization think they’reunproductive, or too challenging to work with.

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For your clients, this situation can present a number ofchallenges as well. Maybe your client hasn’t had an employee with adisabling condition in the workplace before, and may not know howto provide the right support. Or, they may not understand the needto comply with regulations like the Americans with Disabilities ActAmendments Act (ADAAA), which may require employers in certainsituations to provide accommodations to employees. Regardless, anemployer’s first call could be to you to help them make sense ofthis situation and try to provide the best support possible.

Look to your disability carrier for assistance

To help an employee stay at work, increase productivity andmitigate concerns over being labeled by others in the workplace,you and your clients may not have to look further than yourdisability insurance carrier.

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A disability carrier can be a great partner to help proactivelyaddress an employee’s health issues and minimize the loss ofproductivity and other costs associated with an employee workingthrough a medical condition. Whether it’s helping your clientunderstand how to approach an employee who may be experiencing amedical condition, determining the right accommodations, or justproviding reassurance to an employer or employee, you can helpguide your clients through the process of managing an employee’sdisabling condition with the following advice.

Call in the experts

Some disability programs have vocational, nurse and behavioralhealth consultants who have years of expertise in their respectivefields to help with stay-at-work and return-to-work accommodationsand plans. These consultants can provide a unique type of supportfor your clients and their employees.

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Not only are these consultants specialized, with have deepexpertise in areas such as ergonomics, chronic conditions andbehavioral health, many have significant knowledge of specificindustries, such as manufacturing and health care. Thisunderstanding of an industry, both its environment and potentialregulations, is an important component of a strong disabilitymanagement plan. That means a consultant will know if anaccommodation could be a fit for an employee, and understand how itwould function in a work environment, like a production line orhospital room.

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Consultants from a disability carrier are available over thephone, or can often integrate into your client’s workforce fulltime. If in-person assistance is needed, consultants can be on-siteat an employer’s location within a matter of days. This can notonly help take work off your client’s plate, it can help ensurethat employees get the right type of support for their job and workenvironment.

Understand ways to provide support

Accommodating an employee isn’t a one-size-fits-all type ofsolution. Comprehensive disability management support should takethe employee’s job, responsibilities and diagnosis intoaccount.

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This is where a stay-at-work or a return-to-work plan can bedeveloped for an employee’s unique situation. A stay-at-work plancan be developed to support an employee in the workplace before heor she is out on a disability claim. A return-to-work plan can bedeveloped if the employee is already on a claim, and looks to bringan employee back to work the right way, at the right time.

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Both plans can be developed by the consultant through yourdisability carrier, and include the input of the employee, employerand the employee’s medical team to ensure that accommodations andproposed support are not only in line with the employer’sexpectations, but take into account any limitations or restrictionsimposed by the employee’s medical team.

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These plans help set clear expectations, include the input ofkey stakeholders, and can be reassessed and adjusted based on theemployee’s capabilities and medical condition. Above all, they canhelp provide an employee with support to ensure he or she gets thehelp they need to stay at work or return to work after a medicalcondition. This type of assistance can be especially helpful foryour HR contacts who aren’t in the disability management field, andaren’t versed in accommodations.

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As a consultative resource, encouraging your clients to seek outthe help of their disability consultant for stay-at-work orreturn-to-work plans is a key component for a successfulpartnership. Making this connection not only helps provide anemployee the help they need, it may even reduce the number of callsyou field from clients who need assistance.

Look for opportunities to integrate resources

Sometimes the best help for an employee is through resourcesprovided by other employee benefits, or the employer itself.Comprehensive disability management approaches often integrateresources from other carriers, including disease management,smoking cessation, wellness or employee assistance programs, tohelp ensure employees can get the most out of what is alreadyavailable to them.

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This is even true for a program or resource that is provided byanother insurance carrier. Some disability carriers will bridge thegap between a disease management program or EAP and the employee,and take some of the pressure off the HR professional. A disabilitycarrier’s case manager can provide the initial support an employeeneeds and link them up with the program that can provide them thebest assistance. Additionally, the consultant can follow up withthe employee to see if they used the service, if they have anyquestions or need additional care, and provide information to theemployer about how many people were referred to various programsand if an employee followed up with any recommendations.

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Referring employees to these programs for assistance is anotherway to increase use of important programs that sometimes fall bythe wayside or are underused by employees. This integration canhelp emphasize the importance of these resources and encourageemployees to use the benefits that are provided through theseprograms.

The approach at work

A recent success story highlights the importance of acomprehensive approach and how it can help employees from feelinglabeled at work by their medical condition.

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An employee who works for a manufacturer on its production linewas recovering from leg surgery, and needed to use a cane to assisthim in walking. For safety reasons, the production line managerwould not let the employee use his cane on the production linefloor — ultimately placing rigid restrictions on the employee’sreturn to work.

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Whether intended or not, the product line manager ostracized anemployee who was ready to come back to work. The employee’s HRmanager ended up calling their assigned disability consultant tohelp find a solution. The disability consultant conducted a jobanalysis and worked with the employee, employer, production linemanager and the employee’s medical team to determine an approachthat could work for everyone.

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Not only was the employee able to return to work and use thecane, the disability consultant also identified another solution —the purchase of a tool to help him grab items without having toreach for them. This additional accommodation was purchased to helphim work safely and not strain himself or re-injure himselffurther.

A supportive environment

The labeling of an employee because of a medical condition is areal phenomenon in your clients’ workplaces. Providing a supportiveenvironment is key to keeping an employee with a medical conditionat work, productive and happy. Providing this counsel to employersis important to ensure the success of your relationship and to helpthem understand how much more they could be getting from theirbenefits.

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