Long before the coronavirus pandemic upended the workplace and impacted absence and disability management, employers have been rethinking these programs by taking a proactive approach.

Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s accommodations program supports employee financial well-being and building employer trust by allowing employees to continue working as much as possible, said Jared Fu (pictured right), the apparel company’s manager of health and well-being operational excellence, during a panel session at Benefits Canada‘s 2023 Healthy Outcomes Conference in October.

“If you’re taking that proactive approach, your employees will see that you actually do care and I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s not just talking the talk, you’re able to walk the talk.”

Read: Lululemon wins award for holistic absence management programs

In 2023, Lululemon processed 630 accommodations requests among its Canadian employees, receiving, on average, 12 requests per week. While that amount may seem high, it has resulted in an overall decrease in disability claims, said Fu, adding Lululemon’s mental-health disability leave durations have decreased from an average of 70 to 65 days. “When you multiply that by the amount of employees we have, that is a significant reduction in the total days lost.”

Jessica Myers (pictured middle), acting manager of wellness and abilities at Algonquin College, said her team works closely with employees and their union to ensure workers receive the proper disability coverage or workplace accommodation. She noted the college also provides accommodation based on family status and religion as part of its holistic approach to supporting employee well-being.

“We want to make sure that when we’re engaging in these processes, individuals are using the right type of leave — for example, family care leave may not necessarily be falling under your accommodation process where you’re utilizing short-term disability.”

Since 2019, Algonquin has seen a 32 per cent decrease in mental-health disability claims, said Myers, adding the average absence leave has decreased by between five per cent and eight per cent during that same time period.

Read: How Algonquin College is stepping up its absence management program

The college has also enhanced the communications aspect of its absence management program. “Our approach previously was . . . individuals submitted their medical note [and] they’d be off for a period of time. Communication would almost become non-existent or very limited, . . . which impacts the return to work.”

Brooke Schwarz (pictured left), manager of national total rewards at BDO Canada LLP, said the organization approaches its disability and accommodation programs as preventative measures within the wider scope of its employee well-being strategy. She noted 38 per cent of short-term disability claims stem from mental-health issues, below the industry average of 44 per cent.

“We really look at all of our employee well-being programs as a whole and really try to promote our employees to live healthier and happier lives.”

As part of its accessibility policy, BDO Canada also offers an accommodation request tool for employees. “[These resources] really help the employees in their day-to-day work and [to live] their best lives — all of the pieces of the puzzle that come together in all of our [well-being] programs.”

Read more coverage of the 2023 Healthy Outcomes Conference.