I am told it’s time to stop beating up on the Federal Labor Relations Authority and move on. OK. Even though the case search engine on their website hasn’t worked in living memory and there so much more to justly abuse them about, it is time for a change. (By the way, if you want to research FLRA decisions, you can do so through the FedSmith site. Just go to the LER Corner and enter your search terms in the LER search box on the right hand side of the page.)
What makes medical issues such a problem for managers?
The answer to this has to do with having to use different approaches to identifying employee medical problems depending on the circumstances. Employees are subject to illness and injury off and unconnected to the job as well as job related or caused illnesses or injuries. They may be entitled to care for ill or injured family members. Complex issues such as compensation, leave, temporary or permanent job modification, light or limited duty (they’re different, you know.), reasonable accommodation, or discrimination can leave supervisors and managers scratching their heads so much they may be entitled to workers compensation benefits themselves.
In addition, medical matters are often considered the most private of areas for people. Employees are often reluctant to provide medical evaluations for a whole slew of reasons including denial of the problem.
The Federal workforce is aging and employees find themselves the victims of illnesses they thought were reserved only for the “old”. As a society, we routinely take much more medication than our parents and vastly more than our grandparents. There is much more dependence on medication to smooth out difficult times, to address sleep disorders, counteract what used to be considered psychological problems but may now recognized as chemical imbalances in the body.
There is a tremendous expansion both of our knowledge of what’s wrong with us and our reliance and demands on medicine to address those wrongs. The reality facing managers is that the workers they supervise are much more likely to bring the effects of a medical condition and its treatment into the workplace and expect the Federal employer to adjust their hours and their work accordingly.
Also high on a manager’s radar scope are family care and the time these issues take away from work. Child care and elder care concerns, in large measure, drove the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As our society’s view of roles and responsibilities changes, the Federal workplace is often looked to as a model for the rest of the country. Being out front has its benefits but serving as a testing ground has its disadvantages. Federal supervisors and managers know this very well.
Managers are increasingly concerned with claims of discrimination based on a perceived or real employee “disability”. These cases are frequently complex and involve decisions that rely on the knowledge of others.
So how to we make sense out of all of these rules and requirements?
The only way to get these matters straight is to segment the issues by type. Workers compensation is a unique area and almost entirely out of management’s control. What we can address are issues such as the following wherein the Agency has choices in approaching them.
• Perceived or actual leave abuse arising from a claimed medical condition
• FMLA, its benefits to employees and constraints on managers
• Temporary job modifications where injuries or illnesses have a specific duration
• Permanent job modifications driven by the Rehabilitation Act
• Requesting medical information from physicians
• Working with employees who have chronic conditions
• What happens when an employee’s medical problems cannot be accommodated