May 14, 2020

Episodic disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, are characterized by periods of good health alternating with periods of illness or disability. Because symptoms of these disabilities fluctuate, they create unique accommodation challenges. The Institute for Work & Health is currently developing evidence-based workplace resources to support workplace parties in meeting these challenges. In this session, Monique Gignac, the leader of this research effort, will discuss the best practices identified by her research while leading labour lawyers provide guidance on meeting legal obligations. Questions to be addressed include the following:

  • What are the most common challenges that arise in the accommodation of workers with episodic disabilities? What are the most difficult aspects of accommodation for workers, employers, and unions?
  • How should key communication challenges be dealt with? For example, how should employees and employers maintain communication about accommodation needs, which may change frequently, while respecting employee privacy? What role do unions play in such communication?
  • What are the key steps to successful accommodation of employees with episodic disabilities? How can accommodation plans be structured to meet changing — and potentially unpredictable — needs?
  • What types of accommodations are generally helpful to employees with episodic disabilities (e.g. flex time, working from home)?
  • What role does the unpredictability of absences play in the undue hardship analysis? Are there effective strategies for mitigating the adverse effects of unpredictable absences on both the workplace and the employee in accommodation?
  • How should workplace parties deal with performance concerns that arise as a result of an employee’s episodic disability? In what circumstances, if any, is it appropriate to apply standard performance management policies and practices to remedy performance concerns?
  • When should an employee go off work on sick leave or disability leave rather than continuing to work with accommodations? How do short-term and long-term disability insurance programs apply to employees who may have relatively short but frequent periods of disability? How does the availability of such benefits affect the employer’s duty to accommodate?