Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s holistic approach to absence management led to a win at Benefits Canada’2023 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 20.

The apparel company won in the Absence management program category for its comprehensive leave policies. In 2022, Lululemon launched a formal employee workplace accommodations program for its North American population. The program establishes clear policy and guidelines, including a comprehensive program summary, in-the-moment support guides and a standardized accommodations request and review process.

“We believe every employee has the right to know and ask about accommodations, so the program is clearly highlighted within our intranet,” says Jared Fu, manager of health and wealth operational excellence at Lululemon. “With a formal program, we’re able to reduce absences by more proactively identifying accommodation opportunities for our employees that keep them actively supported and engaged in the workplace.”

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Since the program’s introduction, the company has seen significant reductions in the number of disability cases, as well as in their durations, he says. Specifically, the total number of short-term disability cases decreased 19 per cent, from 121 to 98, while the duration of disability leaves decreased by an average of 25 per cent.

Lululemon’s employees are covered by both a self-insured STD and long-term disability plan, adds Fu, noting the company’s number of LTD cases is well below benchmark at 7.02 cases per 1,000 employees. This is integrated with the accommodations program to ensure continuity of care and support in cases where a medical accommodation may need to transition into a STD.

The company engages employees from the moment they make an accommodations request, responding within an average of three business days. They’ve shared positive feedback about the program, he notes, as well as the clarity Lululemon provides throughout the process.

In addition, the company’s disability policy bases the benefit amount on total annual earnings inclusive of bonuses, rather than salary — or annual base earnings — alone. This provides employees with added peace of mind to further support their ability to focus on recovery and rehabilitation for a successful return to work, says Fu.

Lululemon also offers expanded mental-health support and training, generous time-off policies and a parental program that includes free family-forming education resources and information sessions.

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