Lisa Eramo

Tips on Managing Employees With Medical Conditions

In New Jersey, a man won a wrongful termination lawsuit after his company fired him for leaving the worksite to get his inhaler at home after he became short of breath. This case, which cost the worker’s employer $45,000, highlights why it’s so important for business owners and HR managers to take a thoughtful, flexible approach to managing employees with medical conditions.

How Flexibility Can Help Mitigate Legal Risks

Wrongful termination lawsuits can cost companies anywhere from $1,000 to millions of dollars per case. In fact, 10 percent of wrongful termination and discrimination cases result in a $1 million settlement. In some of these cases, employees were able to prove that their employer didn’t provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

What does this mean for businesses that manage employees with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, HIV and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? It means that employers must be mindful and flexible, empowering workers to manage their health while performing the essential functions of their job.

Not only will taking a proactive and compassionate approach help ensure that your business isn’t hit with lawsuits, it can also promote a more positive culture and happier employees.

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4 Tips for Managing Employees With Medical Conditions

Employers and HR managers should consider the following tips to make sure their employees’ medical conditions are appropriately accommodated.

  1. Allow flexible schedules. Say you have an employee with HIV who must take medication on a strict schedule. This medication leaves the employee nauseated for approximately 45 minutes, so they request a daily break when the nausea occurs. According to the ADA, the employer must grant this break unless it can prove undue hardship — characterized as “significant difficulty or expense.” Likewise, employees with insulin-dependent diabetes might need to take short breaks to administer insulin or check their glucose levels.
  2. Think about medication storage. Some employees might need to take refrigerated medications during working hours. If so, they could require access to the employer’s refrigerator or be allowed to bring in a small refrigerator of their own in which they can store their medication.
  3. Provide a private space for medication administration. Depending on their condition, some employees may need a private room to mix and administer injections or prepare other medications. An employee with asthma, for instance, may request a private room where they can use an EpiPen in the event of a severe asthma attack.
  4. Consider revising and creating new policies as needed. An employee with insulin-dependent diabetes, for example, may need to eat a candy bar or drink fruit juice at their desk to avoid insulin shock. If eating and drinking at workstations is prohibited, you will need to build exceptions into your food and drink policies. Or you might need to institute a policy limiting the use of perfumes or fragrances that can trigger an employee’s asthma. Remain open to policies adjustments like these to remain responsive to your employees’ medical needs.

Managing employees with medical conditions doesn’t need to be difficult, time-consuming or costly. Knowing what employees need is the first step. Once you have this information, you can take steps to provide reasonable accommodations that help your employees maintain productivity and stay healthy in the workplace.

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