It’s understandable that employees may need to take time off work occasionally, but these leaves can disrupt productivity — especially if a recurring medical condition causes frequent absences.

As my colleague Lincoln Dirks mentioned last month, managing intermittent leave can be a complicated task for your clients. Everything from proper absence tracking and well-developed call-in policies to becoming familiar with the ins and outs of certifications and recertifications can help play a role in effective leave management.

And while these tips can help create a process for your clients to rely on, what can they do to help employees struggling with a disabling condition? That’s where proactive case management through your client’s disability carrier may be able to help. Here’s how:

1) Connect with the employee early on. If your client notices an employee is taking sick days more frequently or working with reduced productivity, encourage your client to proactively reach out to the employee and discuss the situation. If the employee mentions that a recurring, serious medical condition is causing the absences, your client should connect with its disability provider to investigate potential accommodations to try to help reduce the employee’s symptoms at work.

2) Find a solution and act on it. Let’s say an employee mentions missing work due to frequent migraines, which may be triggered by different sensory attributes. A consultant from your client’s disability carrier may be able to recommend accommodations appropriate for the employee, his or her job function and workspace. In this instance, reducing fluorescent lighting, providing a noise-cancelling headset or designating fragrance-free areas could be potential solutions.

3) Keep the lines of communication open. Together, the employer and disability consultant may put an accommodation into place, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work. By keeping in contact with an employee to see how he or she is doing, the disability consultant can determine if altered or additional accommodations are needed.

To show this system in practice, let me illustrate how intermittent leaves can be reduced with a real-life example. An administrative clerk had herniated discs in her neck and low back, causing constant pain and an increased number of absences. Looking for accommodation assistance, her employer reached out to the company’s disability carrier.

A consultant connected with the employee, developed an accommodation plan and made ergonomic adjustments to her workstation. The consultant also provided ergonomic and body mechanics training to the employee to help her prevent pain by using proper postures, avoiding awkward positions such as neck extension or twisting the low back, and taking micro-breaks to stretch.

Not only did the employee’s productivity increase, but her absences also were reduced. In fact, the employee went from taking more than a dozen intermittent leaves and a few continuous leaves before the adjustments to none.  

Although every story may not end quite this successfully, it’s important to proactively help employees who may be headed toward — or already are dealing with — significant intermittent leaves. By helping your clients understand the opportunities to curb these types of absences, you’ll also have a hand in helping them increase productivity and reduce their management headaches.

Johnson is a disability and productivity consultant with the Workplace PossibilitiesSM program at Standard Insurance Company.

The Standard is a marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc. and subsidiaries. Insurance products are offered by Standard Insurance Company of 1100 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland, Ore. in all states except New York, where insurance products are offered by The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York of 360 Hamilton Avenue, Suite 210, White Plains, N.Y. Product features and availability vary by state and company, and are solely the responsibility of each subsidiary. Each company is solely responsible for its own financial condition. Standard Insurance Company is licensed to solicit insurance business in all states except New York. The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York is licensed to solicit insurance business in only the state of New York.

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