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Indiana SHRM News
Indiana SHRM News

How to Be Inclusive of Chronically Ill Employees

Chronic illness affects every part of a person’s life, including — and often especially — their work life.

As an HR professional, your ethical responsibility to accommodate employees with chronic illness goes beyond legal requirements mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Plus, you can accommodate employees without sacrificing productivity or your business’s bottom line.

What does chronic illness look like?

Chronic illness is defined as an ongoing condition that requires continuous medical attention, limits daily living activities, or both. Symptoms of chronic illness can present themselves in the workplace in a variety of ways:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Frequent and unexpected absences
  • Mental or emotional fatigue
  • Physical weakness and limited mobility

Though these issues can impact productivity, there are many ways you can make your workplace more accommodating for employees with chronic illness and keep them happy, comfortable, and productive at work. Here are a few ways you can accommodate these common issues presented by chronic illness.

Allow for flex time.

Chronic illness can cause employees to miss work frequently or unexpectedly due to physical pain, doctor’s appointments, and more. To accommodate, consider allowing employees “flex time” to make up or move around their daily hours throughout the week.

For example, if an employee with chronic migraines must go home early one day, allowing them to put in extra hours on another day or the following week to make up time missed will accommodate the employee’s necessary absences without missing out on working hours.

Build an inclusive office space.

Many chronic illnesses present physical limitations, such as weakness or lack of mobility. Accommodating for chronic pain includes providing your employees with the physical tools they need for wellness.

With modern technology, there are many ergonomic office tools that can help your workspace be more comfortable for those with physical limitations or needs. Standing desks, wrist support, and high-quality adjustable chairs can help with common conditions such as restless leg syndrome, carpal tunnel, or back pain.

Keep an open dialogue and give employees ample opportunity to voice their needs for office equipment.

Consider employee health and wellness programs.

Many chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, require smart daily lifestyle choices regarding diet and exercise. Wellness programs like exercise classes or health insurance incentives not only offer opportunities to help those managing chronic illness, but they may increase overall employee satisfaction and morale.

Additionally, offering low-cost healthy food options can help employees with chronic illnesses better manage their conditions. Even on special occasions, take into account individual diet restrictions and keep track of employees’ needs so everyone has the options they need to enjoy a catered lunch or office celebration.

An open, honest dialogue is key to supporting and accommodating employees with chronic illness. Be sure to protect employees’ personal privacy, and respect their right to keep conditions to themselves. When employees are comfortable presenting issues and concerns to HR, all parties can effectively navigate chronic illness in the workplace together.