the project. However, handing the issue over entirely to an outside
organization can have its challenges, too.
Johanna Skitt, now director of human resources with Giffin Koerth
in Toronto, was formerly a reintegration specialist with CIBC.
“Like it or not, there tends to be stigma attached to employees
who come back from a leave,” she said. “They can become less appealing
to managers. So having someone external try to ‘sell’ them
to managers instead of someone internal can be hard. I struggled
with it constantly.”
On the other hand, there are ways to incorporate the guidance
and expertise from outside sources, while still handling all of the
communication with the manager and employee internally. It’s a
matter of what works best for each organization.
Whether or not you employ external help, you’ll want to involve
the employee, his manager and the employee’s physician in
the process. The physician, though, shouldn’t be expected to define
the accommodation plan.
“The legalese around the physician’s role when it comes to accommodation
is that she will advise the employer if the employee
has a disability that qualifies him for accommodation, and if so,
inform the employer about the functional limitations related to
that disability,” said Baynton. “What should happen next is that
the employer develops a workplace accommodation based on the
functional limitations and the work requirements, but in reality,
physicians are often expected to provide specifics around job accommodation
requirements, when they are rarely familiar with
the requirements or the demands of the jobs.”
To help resolve this challenge and help employers (and even external
consultants) develop accommodation and return-to-work
plans, Baynton helped in the development of the booklet Supporting
Employee Success (see sidebar for more information), an initiative of
Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.
“We worked with family physicians, the medical advisor for a
large corporation, an occupational health physician and an occupational
health nurse,” said Baynton. “We knew that many employers
were saying, ‘We aren’t mental health experts so we can’t know
what kind of accommodation is going to be safe for this employee.’
And the healthcare practitioners were saying, ‘We don’t know the
workplace, so we don’t know what kind of workplace accommodation
would best support this employee to do their job.’
“If that’s what both sides are saying, the person who is left out in
the cold is the employee. So we created a tool that bridges that gap
and helps the employer to very concisely describe the expectations
in terms of psychosocial demands on the employee.”
MAPPING THE PLAN
Whether you handle the process of reintegrating the employee using
internal or external resources (or a combination of both), their
task is the same.
“I would frame what they’re developing as a disability management
program,” said Kelly. “One of the core purposes of the
disability management program, no matter who is delivering it, is
to evaluate, throughout the absence, the functional limitations associated
with the health condition, relative to the employee’s job
description and core duties. Then, how do we understand and
manage the relationship between the two? It requires appropriate
expertise to address the complexity presented by mental health
Baynton recommends that the employer first outlines job expectations
and some of the potential challenges inherent with
them (including time pressures, exposure to emotionally stressful
situations, working relationships) with the employee, manager
and health care professional. The manager fills in a questionnaire,
considering whether the employee’s duties mean she has frequent,
occasional, infrequent or no exposure to each.
The employee then fills out the next section of the questionnaire,
indicating her tolerance for each challenge. For example, she
could indicate that she’s able to tolerate exposure to stressful situations,
able to tolerate exposure occasionally or infrequently or is
unable to tolerate it at all.
“The employee is saying, ‘This is how I feel right now,’” said
Baynton. “The wording is designed to take away the feeling that
it’s a failing of an individual rather than a particular circumstance
of the moment.”
PROVIDE SOLUTIONS AND SUPPORT
When you understand the areas where an employee might need
help, you can offer suggestions for support.
“The list in the resource we’ve created provides ideas that might
allow the employee to effectively manage stressful situations rather
than avoid them,” said Baynton.
For example, an employer could allow reasonable time off to attend
counseling sessions or medical appointments and time for phone calls
of reasonable length during the day to doctors or other supporters.
“Let them have a lifeline and let them have permission to reach
out when they need to,” said Baynton. If in-house EAP counseling
services or work coaches are available, encourage the employee
to access them.
“EMPLOYEES CAN’T JUST
PICK UP WHERE THEY LEFT
OFF. THEY NEED TO GET BACK
TO SPEED GRADUALLY.”
– MARY ANN BAYNTON, PROGRAM DIRECTOR,
GREAT-WEST LIFE CENTRE FOR MENTAL HEALTH
IN THE WORKPLACE AND FOUNDER, MARY
ANN BAYNTON ASSOCIATES CONSULTING
HRPATODAY.CA ❚ MAY/JUNE 2015 ❚ 19