Time Reports on Accommodating the Chronically Ill in the Workplace
Employers are searching for new ways to manage and retain the rising number of U.S. workers living with chronic illnesses, this week's issue of Time magazine reports. About 40% of the workforce suffers from a chronic disease like AIDS, asthma and diabetes, with "some of the most difficult situations" arising with HIV/AIDS. Time reports that the needs of employees with AIDS "are small but critical to their health." Howard Schwartz, managed care coordinator at the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City provided an example: "Most of the drugs must be taken with food, and so the person needs to be eating at all times of the day, not just at lunch. Coworkers may see this and ask questions. So that person is presented with a disclosure issue when he or she hasn't asked for it." In addition, HIV/AIDS sometimes carries a stigma in the workplace. GMHC Attorney Debra Wolf said, "I have scores of discrimination cases. Most are situations where individuals are slowly forced out of their jobs."
Navigating the Problem
In addition to protection afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, Time offers several solutions to potential workplace problems regarding chronically ill workers. Creating a "flexible workplace" is an increasingly popular way to provide workers "more autonomy in their schedules," according to Karol Rose of LifeCare.com, a global provider of workplace management services. This could include a part-time arrangement or "very specific accommodations agreed upon between the employer and an individual employee." In addition, "flexplace" allows employees to work by electronic extension from a location outside of the office. "Flextime" allows employees to adjust the start and end of their workday according to their needs. Companies may also hire an on-site physician that can "consult with the employee's personal health care provider and find good accommodations without the person's having to share the reasons with his or her supervisor," American Home Products Director of Employee Relations Nancy Konta said. Time also suggests a "sick bank" system, where employees can anonymously donate their sick days to a colleague. Finally, Time reports that "experts insist communication is vital, and people can't always make proper use of their rights unless employers know how best to accommodate them" (Tesoriero, Time, 1/22).