As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, work during the pandemic has taken new forms and new strategies for success. Many of these strategies are also practices that help employers accommodate workers with disabilities. For instance, employers have needed to plan closures and reopenings, or how to do business during the pandemic. In the same way, employers can make plans to support people who return to work with disabilities. Returning to work after the COVID-19 pandemic may help employers learn how to accommodate workers who have disabilities.
Returning to Work After the COVID-19 Pandemic
Essential workplaces have used many new procedures since the start of the pandemic. For instance, workers have:
- Worn masks, or provided masks to customers
- Created and followed distancing rules
- Increased or decreased staffing in response to demand
As a result, workers have taken on new responsibilities, or changed their hours of work. Alternatively, non-essential workplaces have closed and re-opened. In both cases, workplaces have quickly planned and implemented changes. Moreover, employers made these plans in response to government dictates and recommendations. In other words, they have consulted experts and created plans based on that expertise to safeguard their workers and the public.
This same level of planning and collaboration is vital for employers supporting workers who develop disabilities. These workers may need to take leaves of absence from work due to their new disabilities. In addition, they may need accommodations when they return to work. Therefore, employers, workers, and other professionals must work together to create return to work plans.
During the pandemic, employers have made plans for their organizations based on information and recommendations from various sources, including:
- The federal and provincial governments
- The World Health Organization (WHO) and other reliable health organizations
- Professional consultants
These sources alerted workplaces about the need for large- and small-scale changes to their businesses. Moreover, these consultants also worked with employers to recommend and implement new procedures. In the same way, employers create return-to-work plans in consultation with others, including:
- The worker with a disability
- The worker’s healthcare provider(s)
- Other health and safety professionals
- Volunteers from the workplace, or the union if there is one
Workers alert employers about their disabilities, and their need for leaves of absence. Medical and other professionals recommend when the worker can return to work, and how the employer can accommodate.
Planning for Different Options or Stages
As the pandemic continues, employers have needed to make plans based on different possible outcomes of the pandemic. For instance, employers may have needed to lay off some of their workers. However, because of government funding, some employers could afford to continue employing those workers. Likewise, when workers with disabilities return to work, they may need to plan for different outcomes, depending on their abilities when they return. For example, returned workers may be able to:
- Return to their old jobs, with no changed duties
- Return to their old jobs, with some changed duties
Work in a different role or department
Similarly, employers’ plans in response to the pandemic may include stages. For example, a store may plan three stages of serving customers during the pandemic, with different levels of contact:
- Online service only
- Curbside pick-up
- In-person service
In the same way, a worker’s return may also happen in stages. For instance, a worker may be able to return to work part-time at first. The worker may work for a few hours a day, or a few days a week. Then, the worker’s hours can slowly increase until they are working full time again.
Accommodations and Responsibilities
During the pandemic, employers need to accommodate workers taking time off for COVID-related reasons. For instance, workers may need time off if they:
- Develop symptoms
- Care for loved ones
Alternatively, workers may need accommodations, such as remote work or scheduling changes. Employers must accommodate workers in the same way when they return to work with disabilities.
Our next article will discuss more accommodations, and how dealing with the pandemic may help employers better support workers who have disabilities.