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The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

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Accommodating an employee with limitations and restrictions

Key takeaways

  • Maintaining regular activities, including work, can speed up recovery and maintain a sense of identity and purpose.
  • Learn the basics about limitations and restrictions.
  • There are ways to translate limitations and restrictions into realistic and actionable job modifications to help keep employees at work.

Dealing with health issues

Most of us will face one or more health issues at some point. For many of us, this means we’ll experience difficulties performing some of our job duties, temporarily or in the long term. Although we may go through some challenges, we can continue to contribute actively at work. Maintaining our regular activities, including work, can help us get better sooner and maintain our sense of identity and purpose. 

Working together with your employees to help them stay at work before, during and after dealing with health issues, will benefit everyone.

About limitations and restrictions

Limitations are activities a person is incapable of performing. Restrictions are activities a person can’t perform safely and without harm to themselves or others. 

Limitations and restrictions can be temporary while an employee is receiving treatment or recovering, or they can be permanent. They can be physical, such as limited lifting, walking and standing or cognitive such as limited concentration, exposure to stress and multitasking. Limitations and restrictions are caused by a medical condition, an impairment, illness or injury.

The employee is likely to let you know when they need an accommodation, and they should provide you with enough information to allow you to carefully examine the request. 

If you feel that an employee needs an accommodation and they’re not coming forward, let them know you’re willing to support them and suggest they consult with a health care provider. 

You can ask the employee to have their health care provider write down their limitations and restrictions for you. You can also ask the employee’s permission to write a letter to their health care provider directly, outlining the job duties and asking for limitations and restrictions. 

If an employee is working with a disability case manager or rehabilitation consultant, they’ll provide you with the employee’s limitations and restrictions as early as possible. Use them to explore if you could offer modified work. If you need more information to do that, contact the disability professional directly.

Some terms you may come across:

  • Occasional: typically means the employee can perform the action less than a third of their workday.
  • Frequent: something the employee could or couldn’t do during more than a third of their workday.
  • Repetitive: an action or series of actions repeated many times in a row, at a set pace. A task may be defined as occasional or rare but may also be repetitive.

Keep the focus on the employee’s capacity

An accommodation process focusses on what the employee can or can’t safely do at work. It’s not about the diagnosis or the treatment plan. Don’t make assumptions about the employee’s diagnosis based on their presentation.  For example, don’t assume an employee with cognitive limitations suffers from a mental health condition. Cognitive limitations can be the result of physical pain, fatigue or side effects of medication or treatment.

Medical information is confidential and stays between the employee and their health care team. Ask only for the information you need to allow them to be productive and safe at work.

Having an accommodation discussion

Once you know the limitations and restrictions, you’ll need to compare them with the employee’s job duties and assess if there’s a gap between what the employee can do and the requirements of their job. From there, you’ll be able to explore suitable accommodations. 

To take those next steps, you likely need to meet with the employee. You may want to include others as appropriate, such as their chosen representative, direct supervisor or their health care provider.

At the meeting:

  • Go through the job description or have the employee describe in detail what they do. You could start by going through a typical workday or week. Ask many questions and make sure you understand well. Don’t overlook job duties that happen only on occasion because they may present challenges later.
  • Ask the employee what specifically they think they would have difficulty performing.
  • Examine the demands of each job duty as it relates to the limitations and restrictions. You may need to go to the worksite and have the employee or a colleague perform some of the tasks while you observe them.
  • Carefully assess the job duties against what the employee can or can’t do before thinking of a solution.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions together. Keep an open mind on different ideas and make note of them. Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion.
  • Review each solution brought forward and ask how it’ll bridge the gap between what the employee can do and the requirements of the job.

Always consider simpler and more efficient solutions first, for example:

  • Taking short breaks every 30 minutes can give the employee the chance to stretch and avoid pain. This could be a good alternative to an adapted workstation.
  • Having access to an empty conference room for a few hours each day to write long reports can allow the employee to concentrate effectively. This can be a good alternative to providing a private office.
  • Regular meetings with a leader to review priorities may reduce stress and will leave the employee feeling competent and not overwhelmed. This solution could have more benefits than moving work to another employee. 

Taking notes

Here’s an example of notes taken for an employee with limitations related to concentration, managing stress and sitting for long periods of time.

Job duty or task

  • Analyze data and produce report

Job demands

  • Concentrate for one to two hours at a time
  • Scope and create report content
  • Complete reports within 48 hours while managing other regular work
  • Sit for extended periods of time

Limitations and restrictions

  • Should avoid distractions when concentrating or is likely to make mistakes
  • Should avoid stress caused by long list of tasks; finds it difficult to focus on one thing at a time
  • Shouldn’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time

Ideas for accommodation

The employee could:

  • Work from home in the morning
  • Have access to a private location like an empty conference room with a laptop
  • Wear noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs when needed
  • Avoid answering calls or emails while producing reports - calls could go directly to voicemail and have an out-of-office message on emails
  • Temporarily transfer the report production to another role
  • Meet with leader at the end of each day to define priorities and make plan for the next day
  • Stick to a regular daily schedule for all other recurring work and use calendar to pre-book time
  • Avoid attending team meetings when a report is overdue
  • Take breaks after 30 minutes on computer to walk or stretch
  • Have access to a sit/stand workstation
  • Alternate work on reports with other work that can be done standing such as phone calls and virtual meetings

You may leave the meeting with solutions to implement right away, or you may have a list of possible solutions like these ones that you’ll need to review to identify cost, feasibility, impact on other employees, sustainability, etc. 

When you’ve landed on a solution, take time to explain in detail to the employee why you’ve chosen this specific solution instead of another, especially if it wasn’t their solution of choice. Clearly outline the anticipated duration of the accommodation. Put the agreement in writing and keep a copy in the employee’s file for future reference.

Agree on a follow-up process

To support the employee’s success, agree on periodic follow-up touchpoints. Tell the employee who they can go to and actions they can take if the accommodation isn’t working for them. 

Things may change. For example, the employee’s medical condition may worsen or improve, or your business may need to be reorganized to respond to different needs. These changes could result in a review of the accommodation in the future, so a follow-up process is very important.

Gather and read through helpful resources

Read through helpful resources like: 

What's next?

Let Canada Life help you keep your employees at work. We can:

  • Assess the validity and duration of an accommodation request.
  • Suggest viable and realistic accommodation solutions.
  • Support your employee with a treatment plan that’ll help them recover their health.

The information provided is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the date of publication, but rules and interpretations may change.  

This information is general in nature, and is intended for informational purposes only. For specific situations you should consult the appropriate legal, accounting or tax advisor.

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