Retaining employees who become disabled

Workbridge is the largest New Zealand-owned employment service for people with a disability or health condition.

The majority of disabled people become disabled during their working lives, and most businesses will benefit from knowing how to retain a valued employee who becomes disabled.

In some industries there are significant labour shortages as a result of people leaving the workforce due to injury and acquired disability.

By 2021 one third of the workforce will be over 50, up from one quarter today. Disability increases with age and businesses will need to consider the requirements of older workers if they are to retain valued skills and corporate knowledge.

Employees who become disabled

When an employee acquires a disability, or their condition changes, it pays to be flexible so that you retain their skills. Discuss what you can do to make it easier for them to continue to do their job. Reassure them that you value them and the business will help them to continue working, if at all possible.

Flexibility in the short-term is invaluable. This enables the person to come to terms with the effects of the disability, attend rehabilitation or medical appointments, and learn new ways of doing their work. Remember to ask the employee if they are happy for you to discuss the relevant aspects of the disability with colleagues.

Consider the long-term effects, if any, that the disability will have at work, rather than focusing on the medical aspects.

Discuss any reasonable accommodations that may be required, such as:

  • flexible working conditions
  • workplace modifications
  • specialised equipment
  • a phased return to work
  • changes to their role
  • a transfer to another area of the business.

In many cases job support funding will be available to provide these.

If the person needs time off, look at whether it is possible and reasonable to hold their job open for them. Set a timeframe for this, and consider a phased return to work.