Your Employee Has Just Approached You with a Health Issue: Now What?

Morgan Grant

An employee who is injured or suffering from a symptomatic medical condition can throw a wrench into an otherwise smoothly running workplace. It can be difficult for an employer to balance supporting an injured or ill coworker while tending to business as usual. Follow these tips to help your employee recover quickly, get your workplace back to normal, and reduce time away from work.

1. Show support and act immediately

When an employee approaches you, be supportive and make a quick assessment to determine what actions you need to take – and how best to help them. Your other staff will be reassured by your support and know that you would do the same for them.

2. Set a positive tone

The way you respond to your injured employee sets an example for them and the rest of your workforce. Show your support and avoid joking or making inappropriate comments.  

3. Keep it respectful from the start

Show your employee that you have their best interests at heart. Treat them the same way you would want someone to treat you if you were feeling vulnerable: kindly. Be firm and professional in your inquiries and actions. 

4. Set realistic expectations

From the start, make it clear that you are counting on the employee to contribute whatever they can to the company during their recuperation. Tell the employee to ask their doctor for an “activity prescription” that describes what they can safely do at work while recovering – and ask them to give you a copy of the form.

5. Aim for a “win-win” 

People recover faster if they stay active and keep busy. Keeping people at work means they can continue to live their daily lives without major interruption, which can reduce the psychological impact of injury. It can also reduce the amount of time lost post-injury, which can impact claims costs. 

6. Look for the easy ways to adjust work temporarily

Rearrange your employee’s work station to accommodate their physical needs. Try assigning them different tasks such as mentoring new employees or taking some refresher training or cross-training. By assigning real work, you’re increasing productivity and encouraging on-the-job recovery. 

7. If work caused the problem, do something about it 

If the injury or illness was caused because of the employee’s daily job, do some investigating. It may reveal an opportunity to improve your safety and injury prevention program. Take steps to prevent future harm to your employees. An injured employee can cause others to worry about their safety at work. Let them know you are doing everything you can to solve the problem through verbal and environmental affirmations.

8. If it is a work-related problem, get in touch with your workers’ comp insurer

Your claims handler should be able to suggest a medical facility nearby that can see your employee promptly. The sooner you get your employee care, the better. Your insurer will also know whether your state allows you to have a say in where your employee goes for medical care. If the injury is serious, call the employee's family immediately so they can provide further support and answer any questions if needed. 

9. Be transparent with the rest of your coworkers

Use this as an opportunity to educate the rest of your staff on your accommodation policies and procedures. Tell them what you have been doing to accommodate your injured or ill employee, and reassure that the same treatment would be applied for anyone of your staff members in the same situation.

10. Keep in touch with the sick employee 

Assign a supervisor or another coworker to keep in contact with your absent employee. You want your absent employee to feel missed and like they are still a valued part of the team. Let your employee know you welcome any questions, and listen to their concerns. Don’t pry for unnecessary details. Make them feel heard, not interrogated. 

11. Comfort with acts of kindness 

In the case of an injured or sick employee, sometimes actions speak louder than words. Inform the employee about benefits the company offers that might be helpful now, such as an Employee Assistance Program or other health and wellness benefits. Kind acts such as sending flowers or “get well” cards, although small, send a big message. Acts of kindness reaffirm the fact that you value the injured or sick employee, and in turn, strengthens their loyalty to you and your company.