3 Tips for Chronic Caring

This is a guest post by Sharlyn Lauby, who writes HR Bartender.

Chances are you’ve seen the news by now reporting that there are upcoming changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But I’m not here to talk about the ADA…your friendly local employment attorney can give you all the details.

I want to talk about employees who have chronic or reoccurring medical conditions. According to Wikipedia nearly one in two Americans (translation: about 133 million) has some sort of chronic medical condition. Examples of common chronic conditions are arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure. And, these conditions may or may not be covered under the ADA. So if you’re approached by an employee who wants to discuss a reoccurring medical condition, how should you handle it?

The answer? Like a person. Let me tell you a story…

Long before the ADA, FMLA, and a handful of other laws that probably end in “A”, and just three weeks after I was married, I was involved in an auto accident. I had several injuries but the worst was a broken back and temporary loss of movement from the waist down. I spent the first nine months of my married life in a full body cast and then had to learn how to walk again.

Now you’re probably saying that sounds pretty catastrophic so how does this relate to a chronic condition like migraine headaches. Well, think about it this way: both conditions involve regular doctor’s visits, accommodations on the job, and a whole bunch of time off work. So, here are 3 tips to consider when dealing with employee medical situations.

1. Make sure your employees know their benefits package. Giving your employees knowledge about how their benefits work will not only help them to appreciate that benefit but it will allow them to focus on feeling better (and returning to work). I’ve seen employees pay for covered services or pay higher fees just because they didn’t understand a pre-authorization process. Also, employees should know the proper way to question payments and ask for an expense reconsideration from their insurance company. BTW, you might want to make sure you fully understand them first.

2. Keep your employees engaged. Whether they’re out for a day or a month, call them to follow-up and see how they’re doing. A simple phone call just to say hello allows you to keep employees connected and informed about what’s happening at work. (And, if you need to sneak in a little question or two to keep things running smoothly at the job…I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.)

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3. Be flexible with work assignments. This is a biggie. When I returned to work, I wasn’t able to do the same job. My employer found another position for me…one that I was good at. My manager needed someone for a writing project which ended up being my first instructional design work. In the end, he arranged to have me transferred to HR.

Yes, folks, I’m in human resources today because my employer cared enough to find me a position when I couldn’t do what I was originally hired for.

Oh, and before you immediately dismiss a request to work ‘light duty’ or some other accommodation, think for a second to see if it’s really a hardship. I’ve heard all too many times that there’s “nothing available” only to find something when a manager gets pressured.

So, I hope the next time an employee comes to you about a reoccurring doctor’s appointment you remember these tips. Even better…think about how you would want your spouse/child/parent treated if they were the one needing the time off. It’s a no-brainer.

Nothing can sour the employee-employer relationship more than an employee feeling like the company doesn’t care about their health. We’re all fully aware that companies have goals to achieve, profits to make, and shareholders to answer to. But the companies that get it – those who really understand that happy employees create happy customers – will be the ones that see their happy customers spend more money and build long-lasting customer loyalty.


Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR, CPLP is the voice of HR Bartender, a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When she’s not tending her blog, Sharlyn is president of Internal Talent Management (ITM) which specializes in employee training and human resources outsourcing. Her off-hours are spent searching for the best hamburger on the planet, fabulous wines that cost less than $10 bottle, and exotic martinis.

  • While caring for employees is great, the fact remains that right now the economy is squeezed… Many employers are more worried about numbers and the economy than they are workers, considering the already large (and growing) pool of possible employees.

    Either way, great post:)