This isn’t our first Rodeo, and won’t be our last!

Changing the way we manage medical conditions in the workplace

The workplace is a confusing place right now.

Heck, the world is confusing with all that’s happened in 2020.

We’ve been in COVID-19 working remotely over the last six months. While many schools map out some form of re-opening, hybrid models of being on-site vs. distance learning abound and the outcomes remain to be seen.

Some industries have boomed. Others have been shut down entirely. Others are still pivoting to figure out new ways of doing things and rebounding.

Many essential workers have been back to work for months. Others have lost their jobs entirely. As workplaces re-open, those with underlying medical conditions fear for their health and life.

As guidelines for re-opening are in flux and the number of COVID-19 new cases and deaths go up and down, persons with underlying medical conditions face a quandary. Employers struggle with how to bring people back to work and get the work done while trying to understand changing guidelines and new laws with new benefits.

Sure, certain provisions, like ten days of COVID-19 emergency leave exist but for many, it’s hardly enough to make someone feel safe about returning to work when they already struggle with other conditions. Their medical providers also struggle in making sound medical recommendations for the health and safety of their patients.

So, what can be done when work opens up but employees don’t want to come back?

As the saying goes, “this isn’t our first rodeo!”

Even though we haven’t quite dealt with circumstances like COVID (at least for one hundred years), we do have in place practices and procedures that can be adapted to the current situation.

Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA is 30 years old as of this year) and the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA is even older) put into place a practice called “the interactive process.”

This process is designed to require employers and employees to collaborate and engage in a confidential process to address medical conditions that impact an employee’s ability to be at work, stay at work, and perform the work.

When the interactive process (TIP) is applied to COVID-19 underlying conditions, it creates the opportunity for a dialogue that uncovers underlying fears, concerns, and the nature of the underlying condition that could be in conflict with COVID-19.

The interactive process creates a pathway to design a return to work plan that balances the needs of both the employee and the employer while also setting clear expectations.

Behavioral health, as well as physical health, is compromised in these times of challenges to our public and financial health and the ensuing social and political unrest. People are unable to focus, may act irrationally, and may inadvertently place themselves at risk or put others at risk for attempting a return to work during uncertain times.

Through the interactive process, the reality of the present circumstance for each employee on a case-by-case basis can be clearly established while also demonstrating an atmosphere of care and concern during unprecedented times, while ensuring appropriate use of available laws, leaves, and supporting medical documentation. All towards the goal of returning employees safely back to work.

In such times of uncertainty, a sense of belonging and a sense of support is even more essential to employee engagement, employee retention, and employee attraction for new talent.

While the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, unfortunately another, slower-moving health crisis remains. During COVID-19, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic respiratory conditions have not been receiving the attention they deserve.

Prior to COVID-19, NCDs were responsible for 71% of all global deaths and will remain problematic long after the pandemic ends and while the long-term effects of COVID remain unknown.

“Over the next 20 years, NCDs will cost more than U.S. $30 trillion […] pushing millions of people below the poverty line” (2011 report released by the World Economic Forum).

We had problems before and we’ll have even more health problems moving forward. Embracing what the ADA mapped out 30 years ago through the interactive process represents the best opportunity for employers and employees alike to mitigate the impact of medical conditions on employees’ ability to be at work, stay at work, and perform the work.

Wouldn’t you want your employer to have your back?

Let’s work together and collaborate on finding best solutions for a both-gain outcome that preserves the integrity and character of both the employee and the employer.

Employees need the work and employers need people to do the work.

We’re in this together.

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