Returning to Work After A Brain Injury: How to Support Your Employee
A guide for small business owners on how they can help staff returning to the workplace with a disability
If your employee is returning to work after a brain injury, it can be hard knowing what level of support you should be providing them with. All sorts of issues around accessibility, adapting their work environment and managing their workload may be on your mind.
So how can you ensure their transition back into the workplace works for you and them?
For employers, it’s not always clear what difficulties your staff member will have when returning to work. The type and severity of a brain injury can vary greatly and impact different areas of their working life: from social skills to their behaviour and relationships with other colleagues. Or it could affect how your employee concentrates, learns and processes or remembers things.
Either way, it’s important to take the time to understand their needs and how you can support them best.
Here are a few things to consider when an employee with a brain injury returns to work:
Assess their needs
Assessing the needs of your employee is the first thing you should do. This should be done in the run up to their return, and reviewed once they’re back in the workplace.
Carry out a formal assessment with the help of an occupational therapist and medical professional to find out what help or support they need to settle back into their job. Make sure you also take the time to talk to your employee to get their input.
Adapt the workplace to meet their needs
Under section 20(4) of the Equality Act 2010, you may need to adapt your employee’s physical working environment so he or she is able to carry out tasks independently. The legislation requires employers to consider whether the employee is still capable of fulfilling the duties of their role unaided.
If they aren’t, you may need to make a physical adjustment to their workplace, for example installing accessible walkways or grab rails if the employee has physical impairments. You may need to buy specialist equipment such as a large computer monitor if, for example, the job involves using a computer and your employee has sight problems.
Provide extra training
Your injured staff member is likely to feel apprehensive about returning to work after a brain injury so make sure they feel supported as soon as they are back. Providing extra training or creating a returning to work plan can really help your employee resettle back into their job and team.
Consider setting up a buddy system – a person for them to come and chat to about problems. Identify if they need extra training on any equipment or technology in the workplace. Those who’ve experienced a brain injury may have to relearn how to use existing equipment and will also need support and training with anything new.
Offer flexible working hours
Consider adjusting your employee’s working day following their brain injury. Offering a phased return to work or flexible hours is likely to help them settle back in. Having a flexible approach to working hours can be really helpful to your staff member if he or she needs to attend regular medical appointments, take medication or needs longer to travel to work.
Adjust their workload
A brain injury can cause a range of physical and cognitive impairments, which may impact your employee’s ability to manage their time and multi-task. For this reason, you may need to reduce your employee’s workload initially as they re-adjust to being back at work. Consider making changes on a more permanent basis depending on the type and extent of their injury.
Support other staff in their interactions
Whether the brain injury happened relatively recently or a number of years ago, it can affect how a person communicates, forms relationships and interacts with others. An injured employee’s behaviour and temperament may be quite different to how it was before, and they may have difficulty dealing with others.
As an employer, it’s your duty to provide support to all members of staff who might have concerns or need advice about interacting with the injured employee. If the employee agrees to do so, you could consider sharing information about the injury with their team. This would need to be done with sensitivity and you would need to ensure that the employee was entirely happy to share this information. You may also wish to provide training to the team if this would be helpful.
There are all sorts of things to consider when an employee returns to work after a brain injury. It is paramount to ensure that you assess their needs. What’s more, adapting the workplace to ensure the employee can carry out their tasks is crucial so that they can do their job.
As well as providing extra training and support to your injured staff member, make sure you consider the needs of the rest of the team too. Keep channels of communication open, and have regular check-ins with all those affected, to ease the settling in process and ensure their return to work goes as smoothly as possible.
Suzanne Trask is head of the Adult Brain Injury department and partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp solicitors. For more information on how to support an employee returning to work, head over to Bolt Burdon Kemp’s Brain Injury in the Workplace hub.