As an employer, you need to make accommodations for any employees recovering from short-term injuries. According to the Department of Labor, the federal government enforces a series of laws that require businesses to accommodate employees with any disability, whether it’s permanent or short-term.
A short-term injury limits an employee’s ability to perform both stationary jobs and active duties. While an active employee would seem to need more accommodation than a stationary employee, sitting for long periods of time can be difficult for anyone recovering from a range of short-term injuries.
According to the University of California at Berkeley, the employer is responsible for a return-to-work plan. Here’s the rundown:
1. Determine Employee Abilities and Job Purpose
You and your employee need frequent, open lines of communication, noted UCB. The limitations that come from short-term injuries will shift over time. As the injury heals or becomes more complicated, your employee must feel comfortable about coming to you and discussing any new or ongoing needs. Simultaneously, document the exact purpose of the job. Once you’ve determined the essential job functions, plan the necessary accommodations to put the employee back to work.
2. Document Work Capacity and Make Accommodations
Ask for a letter from the employee’s physician or physical therapist describing the employee’s work restrictions. Once you have those limitations in writing, there’s a legal responsibility to make reasonable accommodations. These can include time away from work, limited working hours, special equipment and modified job duties.
3. Make a Work Offer and Evaluate Regularly
Once you know the injury, limitations and possible accommodations, make a written offer of work and include the specific accommodations you’re making, explained UCB. Again, documentation is key. Spoken agreements are easily misunderstood and difficult to reconstruct from memory. You can offer the employee the same job or you can reassign the employee to an entirely new job until full recovery. Short-term injuries change and hopefully improve over time. During recovery, your employee may have to change duties, and you’ll need to accommodate those needs as they arise. Keep every change documented, including regular updates from the attending physician.
According to U.S. News and World Report, there can be a number of challenges that come with having limitations while still working, especially for those with no visible symptoms. As the employer, not only do you need to respect the employee’s privacy, but you have to protect it. If other employees ask questions about special accommodations, you have to firmly insist that all discussions end.
If you have to make accommodations for an employee with a short-term disability, don’t rush the process. Federal and state laws provide a balanced framework for both you and the employee. Most importantly, maintain a long view for the process. By respecting laws and employee rights, you’re building a valuable knowledge base while establishing goodwill among your staff.
Dylan Murray has an MBA from San Diego State University and a bachelor’s degree in communication from Boston University. He is a licensed insurance agent in California, but he works as a professional researcher and writer reporting on business trends in estate law, insurance and private security. Dylan has worked as a script analyst with the Sundance Institute and the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. He lives in San Diego, California, and Marseille, France.