Traveling for work was a big part of her career. Sure, it could be tiring at times, but that came with the territory for this 40-year-old professional. She was passionate about her job – and good at it – until a serious illness sidelined her. The road back from disability took an unexpected turn when her medical treatment jeopardized her ability to travel and do her job. Her employer needed to be flexible and creative to keep this productive member of the team.
When valued employees are unable to return from a disability leave to their current job due to injuries or serious illnesses, employers may have to retrain to retain.
“If an employer is willing to offer the possibility of an alternative job, that’s a first great step in helping that employee return to work,” says Dan Vinch, a vocational rehabilitation clinical manager with The Hartford.
Focusing on Employees’ Abilities
Employers and employees do have options when the road to recovery leads to a different destination:
- Collaborate to find a reasonable accommodation for that job – an essential part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- If that’s not possible, consider a different job within the organization, which also can be an accommodation under the ADA.
Alicia Heine, an ADA consultant with The Hartford, explains that an alternative job may be easier to find if an employer keeps job descriptions updated with skills and essential functions. The more specific the job description, the easier it will be to determine an ill or injured worker’s abilities and restrictions. Using yearly performance reviews to revisit and revise job demand information is one easy way to stay on top of essential functions.
“A different job that also can be an ADA accommodation is a win-win alternative,” Heine says. “There are now more opportunities to transition from a physically demanding job to a remote online position.”
That’s exactly what happened in the case of this professional who traveled for a living. Her treatment required a bone marrow transplant that suppressed her immune system. She knew it would have been a risk to continue to travel – or even go to the office – when she was ready to return from disability leave. So, she worked with her disability leave vocational counselor and her employer to come up with a plan. After collaborating, they were able to find a full-time remote position within her company.
The world of work has clearly changed since the pandemic. Jobs are evolving all the time. With the increase of e-commerce companies and remote positions for retail, account managers are in demand, Vinch says. There is also a growing need for chat specialists for customer service and technical support.
Return-to-Work Support and Resources
When an employee does have to be retrained, employers don’t have to do it alone. Heine says job coaches and vocational rehabilitation counselors can help develop a retraining plan that matches abilities with job requirements. The Hartford, for example, has an integrated team of vocational case managers along with medical and behavioral specialists. The team supports workers on disability leave through recovery and their return-to-work (RTW) journey.
Job coaches are also available through state agencies and some nonprofit organizations. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) keeps a list of state vocational rehabilitation agencies and accommodation resources for certain conditions or limitations.
Whether working with an independent job coach or their disability carrier’s vocational specialist, employers should prepare a list of the most current available openings, their essential functions and skill levels.
Caring and Communication
Supportive communication is a vital part of an employee’s transition back to work following an injury or illness. The contact can be as simple as a phone call or card to say hello. The worker’s supervisor should be fully engaged in the process. If an organization has a dedicated RTW coordinator, the supervisor can work closely with the coordinator on the employee’s transition.
Letting an employee know that their company may be able to accommodate them with a different job is a message that can speak volumes. Workers will know that employers care about their well-being and value their work – in whatever job that awaits them.
Learn more about how to support employees returning from leave:
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