Accommodating Immunocompromised Workers Post-CovidAug 12, 2022
The Covid-19 pandemic caused uncertainty for many of us; it changed the way we lived on a day-to-day basis – as working from home and keeping distance has become the norm – but for immunocompromised individuals, the effects of Covid-19 continue to be prevalent, even when restrictions are lifted and when life may feel normal for others. For the immunocompromised, there is concern and anxiety about returning back to work, as they may feel they have little to no control over those around them. In addition, at risk individuals may sometimes be afraid of prejudice or isolation in the workplace, both physically and socially. However, some back-to-work business requirements stipulate that workers must return to the office. In these cases, businesses may need to provide accommodations to their immunocompromised workers to ensure they can work safely and stay healthy.
What Does It Mean to Be Immunocompromised?
Individuals who are immunocompromised have a weakened immune system, meaning that they are not able to fight certain infections, diseases, or illnesses with the same ability as those who are immunocompetent. This is sometimes caused by certain diseases or conditions, as well as strong medical treatments, such as radiation therapy.
Immunocompromised individuals make up such a diverse minority, with only about 3% of the US population known to be immunocompromised (York, 2022), which may result in these individuals’ needs being overlooked in the workplace.
Back-to-work Business Requirements
Business requirements for returning to work post-Covid may differ depending on the sector, the workplace model, and where it is geographically located. There are numerous steps businesses are encouraged to take for the employees who work going back into the office. Some of these steps include the following:
- Following health and safety guidelines to make the workplace safe
- Ensuring personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies are available such as masks, sanitation, eye protection, gowns and coveralls, gloves, sneeze or counter guards, and digital technologies and applications
- Encouraging good hygiene
- Updating policies and procedures
Adapting a Hybrid Working Model
As businesses continue to create a plan for return to work, hybrid work is becoming increasingly popular and the preferred choice among employees and employers. It is forecasted that roughly 25% of professional jobs will adopt a remote working model by the end of the year (York, 2022). The employer may ask for employees to come into the office a few days a week and the rest of the days, employees work from home. It is important to keep in mind that some work environments may be at a lower risk of transmission than others; this could mean the office layout gives enough distance between employees, all employees are vaccinated, or there is less foot traffic on the way to work. Even with employers offering flexibility to work from home and following safety guidelines, immunocompromised individuals may need to request accommodation.
Employer’s Legal Duty to Accommodate
At-risk individuals have a right to request accommodation from their employer, and employers have the duty to provide reasonable accommodations to its employees with disabilities under the human rights code. Employers can find more information on how to assist with accommodation related to Covid-19 here.
Managing Accommodation Requests and Possible Accommodations
Employees can receive reasonable accommodations if they have a record of a disability according to the ADA Amendments Act (US), the equivalent to the ACA Accessible Canada act (Canada). According to the CDC, those that are at high-complication-risk if they were to contract Covid-19 include, but is not limited to, individuals with:
- heart disease
- weakened immune system
- kidney disease
If approached by an employee requesting for accommodation, disability-related documents are not necessarily required; however, employers have the right to obtain information by asking the employee for information specific to their limitations and disability in order to accommodate.
Possible Accommodations for Immunocompromised Individuals
The following are some accommodations that can be put in place for immunocompromised individuals. Note that depending on how high-risk they are, employees may request to work remotely full-time, and employers may need to work with health care providers such as Occupational Therapists to determine if this request is medically supported and viable for the business.
- Flexibility and hours to allow for employee to commute during low-traffic hours to prevent risk of transmission during commute
- Social lunches can be hosted outside with the cooperation of other employees
- If meetings are held inside, employees asking for accommodation can wear masks
- Holding meetings in an outdoor venue allowing employee to attend for collaboration
- Depending on the work environment (open space versus closed space), offer secluded workspace with distance away from other employees
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
Gowan Consulting has Occupational Therapists across Canada to support objective assessment of an employee’s functional needs and requirements for reasonable accommodation in the workplace. We also have Manager Mental Health Training programs to support employers in ensuring that managers can support employees during this period of uncertainty.
Gowan Consulting has a number of online programs for education on accommodation in the workplace and stay at work strategies, including Implementing the CSA Work Disability Management System Standards, which can help you understand the impact of disability on your company bottom line.
York, J. (2022, June 15). The immunocompromised workers being left behind. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20220614-the-immunocompromised-workers-being-left-behind
Penn Medicine. (2020, May 13). What you need to know about being immunocompromised during Covid-19. Penn Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2020/may/what-it-means-to-be-immunocompromised
DeFreitas, T. (2020, January 3). The Ada and Managing Reasonable Accommodation Requests from Employees with Disabilities in Response to Covid-19. Job Accommodation Network. Retrieved from https://askjan.org/blogs/jan/2020/03/the-ada-and-managing-reasonable-accommodation-requests-from-employees-with-disabilities-in-response-to-covid-19.cfm
Bourdin-Craig, M. (2021, June 24). What will a return to the workplace look like? Chartered professional accountants Canada. Retrieved from https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/news/canada/2021-06-24-return-to-workplace
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Snook, A. (2020, April 24). Returning to Work After the Covid 19 Pandemic: a 6-Step Plan. iSight. Retrieved from https://www.i-sight.com/resources/returning-to-work-after-the-covid-19-pandemic-a-6-step-plan/
Government of Ontario. (2022) Workplace PPE Supplier Directory. Government of Ontario. Retrieved from https://covid-19.ontario.ca/workplace-ppe-supplier-directory