Although the effects of an acquired brain injury (ABI) may be unique, a survey has shown that there are similarities with respect to the experience of returning to work.
Many report that there is a lack of initial information and support in regards to returning to work after an ABI. Many have also found that their workplaces did not have a policy in place or were uncertain of policies that existed, and as a result, they had to conduct personal research in order to learn about potential community services. Policies among workplaces related to these accommodations also seem inconsistent.
Challenges or Barriers when returning to work can include: pressure to resume regular work life, fatigue and exhaustion, headaches and pain, cognitive demands, lack of emotional control, difficulty staying focused, anxiety, and challenges with noisy environments.
Tips to Collaboratively Managing Barriers
The employer and employee should be working in collaboration for effective solutions upon the individual’s return to work. Helpful tips include:
Coordinating with service providers to address any gaps, developing policies and procedures on income security, available leave positions, reasonable accommodation, insurance benefits, and gradual return to work.
Collaborative planning and goal setting - everyone is different, so being open and exploring options is key.The employer and employee should collaboratively set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time Bound).
Discuss and provide meaningful support including environmental, logistical, and psychosocial.
Create opportunities for on the job practice and confidence building.
Demonstrate encouragement and recognize employee and employer success.
Engage in ongoing review, assessment and adjustments.
As ABI is a largely non-visible disability that can be unpredictable, treat return to work as a transition process, and have someone available to talk to.
Returning to work can be challenging, as energy levels can be impacted.Driving and pre-work routines can easily exhaust an ABI survivor, so making time to rest and re-engage before the workday is key.
Allow for adjustments to the work environment, as noisy environments, lighting, and distractions can lead to challenges for the individual.Adjustments can include reduced work hours, moving the individual to a quieter workspace, removal of overhead lightening, noise dampening devices, use of coloured paper to reduce eye strain, having meetings when the individual is at peak energy times, etc.
Identify work that can be handled from home.
Be accommodating of appointments that the individual may have, which are crucial to the successful outcome of recovery.
Contact the local brain injury association, community supports, and Employee Assistance Programs to gain education on ABIs and effectively support the employee.
A vocational assessment can also be beneficial to better understand the individual’s circumstances, their functional strengths and weaknesses, and facilitate a renewed sense of hope.
Duty of Employers to Accommodate
Ontario and Canadian Law prohibit discrimination and harassment against individuals with a disability. Employers have a duty to accommodate employees to ensure that they do not experience such discrimination. The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds, including disability, to ensure equal treatment with respect to employment. Under the Ontario Code, the definition of disability explicitly includes brain injuries. To ensure employment-related discrimination does not occur, employers have a duty to accommodate individuals with disabilities. The employer must collect all relevant information about the employee’s disability in order to determine the proper accommodations, and must arrange for this to occur by modifying the work environment and/or conditions. Examples of accommodations can include flexible scheduling, assistive communication devices, methods for stress and anxiety reduction, adjusting tasks performed, and assigning the employee a mentor.
The duty to accommodate is ongoing and involves continued reassessment. Employers must collaborate with their employees and inform all employees about their policies supporting individuals with disabilities, and are under an obligation to disseminate these updates. Employers also have a duty to provide disabled employees with an individualized plan for responding to workplace emergency situations. These duties also apply to potential employers when individuals with brain injuries are seeking employment opportunities.
In any situation with a brain injury, personalization is key, as is ongoing reassessment, communication, and collaboration.
Reference: OBIA Review