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Inclusivity: This Employer Toolkit Accommodates Patients and Families With Chronic Disease

Each one of us knows someone suffering from a chronic condition. Six out of every ten Americans has a diagnosed chronic disease. These can affect their overall wellbeing, quality of life, and income and financial wellness. Employers, too, may find it challenging to accommodate and support chronically ill employees.

Suffering from a chronic condition can:

  • reduce an individual’s productivity at work
  • necessitate sick leave, and
  • may even lead to job loss

Managing disease symptoms, medical appointments, and work creates an imbalance that can put their life in turmoil. From the employer’s perspective, there may be loss of continuity of work, lost productivity, and need to provide support. U.S. employers lose about $36.4 billion annually due to missed days of work resulting from just these five conditions:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • physical inactivity
  • smoking
  • obesity 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is ready to work with employers to ensure employee health and wellness. These programs are focused on small and midsize employers who may not have the resources to develop programs that work. Work@Health is one of CDC’s offerings for employers, inclusive of chroncially ill employees.

In her article penned for Harvard Business Review, Dr. Alyssa McGonagle, associate professor of psychological science and organizational science at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, mentions two forms of conflicts faced by those suffering from chronic health conditions:

  • Time: time spent working interferes with time needed to manage a health condition
  • Energy: energy spent working interferes with energy needed to manage a health condition

She writes that these conflicts lead to worker burnout and withdrawal from work. She advises employers to develop interventions, either at an individual or organizational level, to resolve these conflicts:

  • Establish formal policies to accommodate employees with chronic conditions: reduced work hours, reduced workload, modified tasks, without any impact on their health benefits 
  • Give managers the flexibility and authority to address the needs of individual employees
  • Provide flexible work arrangements
  • Create a supportive work culture that emphasizes employee wellbeing
  • Provide access to support programs

Adjustments at the Workplace

For those who are physically challenged, the employer can install elevators/lifting aids. Other accommodations may include providing frequent breaks, restructure the position requirements, change work procedures, and train the supervisors. 

Read about the workplace challenges faced by migraine patients. Many of these are applicable to other chronically ill employees.

Flexibility at work may include:

  • variable flextime
  • allowing part time employment
  • a compressed work week (eg, 40 hours in 4 days)
  • working from home
  • paid and unpaid leave, etc.  

Be familiar with the provisions within the Family and Medical Leave Act, which has provisions for eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave (12 workweeks in a 12-month period of time) for family and medical reasons, including “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.” Of course, a majority of Americans cannot afford extended unpaid leave, so several states have been working on other models to support these individuals and their families:

  • Temporary disability benefits that pay a portion of the salary for those unable to work due to injury or illness 
  • Sick leave for family, entitling employees up to 12 weeks of sick leave to care for a sick family member

Whenever possible, employers can provide access to programs that help employees with chronic conditions achieve a work-life balance while being productive. 

Surabhi Dangi Garamella

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.


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