Easing Employees’ Return to Work After an Illness

With many Americans falling ill right now, it is important to remember that employees often need some time to heal before returning to work — and even when they do, a readjustment period is a good idea. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan for when employees return to work after an illness.

To start, familiarize yourself with the relevant medical and disability regulations. For example, if you have 50 or more employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act may apply. If you have 15 or more employees, and the illness leads to a permanent disability, you’ll have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. State and local laws and regulations may also influence your company’s policy for returning to work after an injury.

But beyond these requirements, what can you do to ensure that returning employees thrive after their absence?

Physical Considerations

For many illnesses, the most obvious change for the employee will likely be physical limitations. If you’re not sure what types of physical accommodations they’ll need in the workplace or at their home office (if they’re telecommuting), simply ask. The employee may have information from a doctor or physical therapist that you can use as a reference.

In some situations, allowing employees the flexibility to work from home for a while may be enough. This option allows them to avoid the strain of traveling to and from the workplace and gives them a chance to recuperate in a comfortable environment while still working.

Mental and Emotional Support

The stress of an illness and the unexpected limitations, even in the short term, take a mental and emotional toll as well. An employee who’s received from a major illness can experience anxiety, depression and trouble concentrating during (and sometimes after) the physical recovery process.

If your company offers an employee assistance program (EAP), remind employees that they have access to help with difficult emotions designed for people recovering from illnesses. Some EAP and disability benefits include specific resources to help employees return to work.

Social Support

Similar to mental and emotional support, social support can help employees reacclimate more quickly. That said, be mindful of each person’s preferences and sensitivities. For some, the camaraderie of the work environment (even if it’s just over calls and virtual meetings) will help them bounce back. For others, being in a possibly vulnerable state can be awkward and isolating.

Getting Employees Back on Track

Helping employees return to work with flexibility and compassion can be a win-win situation for them, the rest of their team and your company as a whole. Demonstrate your commitment to your employees and their well-being by supporting your staff’s needs across the physical and emotional spectrum. A smooth and successful transition for returning employees is your ticket to getting your operations back on track faster and encouraging a healthier workplace environment for your entire workforce.

This article, originally published on The Benefits Guide February 12, 2020, has been updated to reflect the current circumstances faced by our audience during the ongoing COVID crisis.s

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