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Disability: employers must act quickly

By Alain Castonguay | November 18 2013 06:48PM

On the 20th anniversary of Optima Global Health’s founding, the company’s CEO François Laflamme stressed how important it is for employers to act quickly to support an employee’s recovery and reinstatement after a prolonged absence due to disability.
At the beginning of the fall, Mr. Laflamme and his associate Nathalie Tremblay began a tour of eleven cities in Canada. They went to Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, and Moncton, and completed their tour of the western provinces in late October. On Sept. 23 in Quebec, Laflamme described his consulting firm’s integrated approach to human resources management.

Over 20 years of doing business, Laflamme has hired a variety of specialists who have experience that complements his role as a professional counsellor. In this type of interdisciplinary approach, he says that each person plays a pivotal role in supporting the employee in his rehabilitation. “If the employee on sick leave is required to discuss things with several different specialists, it creates a kind of gap in his treatment that can slow rehabilitation.” This is why at Optima the counsellor needs to step outside of his field of expertise and take a more holistic approach in managing the rehabilitation plan.

It is not just that employees resist change, says Laflamme. Organizations are also reluctant to alter their management style. Helping an employee return to work after a long-term disability may require several workstations to be modified, and staff may need to be reassigned. “It is not always easy to do, but it is estimated that it is three times more expensive to recruit and replace an employee who does not return to work than it is to keep him on the job. So one should think twice.”

One trick to test an employee’s willingness to return to work: “Instead of asking him how long he will be away, ask instead when he is thinking about coming back to work.” This will determine whether the disabled worker still likes his job, his colleagues, and his company, and will help to determine the potential success of his return to work.

As an example, Tremblay mentioned an employee who refused to take the pills he had been prescribed, but who was brought back to work through the influence of his spiritual advisor. In some cultures, psychotherapy is incompatible with religious faith. If the employee’s adherence to treatment is essential to the restoration of his health, we must be ready to adapt to each individual’s particular situation, she says.

Laflamme adds that health professionals are generally reluctant to reconsider a treatment that does not seem to be helping the insured to return to work. “We need to rethink our response and show the employee that we are working for him. For example, we can help him to obtain earlier appointments with the specialists who are involved with his case,” he comments.

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