Measures at the workplace when challenges are related to illness

When your employee falls ill, support their work ability. This allows them to recover and continue in their work. Your occupational health services will help you. Your employee’s illness does not always mean that they have to be absent from work. It can still be useful for you to take measures at the workplace to support their work ability.

Five good measures

f your employee falls ill and needs a longer sick leave, they usually needs your support and that of the rest of the work community. There are a number of ways to support your employee. There are five good measures available to you: 

  1. Stay in touch with your employee during their sick leave.
  2. If needed, ask the occupational health services for an assessment of your employee’s work ability.
  3. Engage actively in work ability negotiations.
  4. Modify your employee’s work.
  5. Support your employee's successful return to work.

Returning to work after a long sick leave is a stage where your employees often require support. You can arrange a work ability negotiation together with the occupational health services and the employee before the employee’s actual return to work. The initiative to hold a negotiation can also come from the occupational health services or the employee themselves. 

The employee’s return to work can be supported through the work accommodations, Kela’s (the Social Insurance Institution of Finland) partial sickness allowance, a paid work trial (sometimes called work try-out) based on the Occupational Health Care Act and Kela’s rehabilitation or earnings-related pension company’s vocational rehabilitation.

Steps of the measures

Below are five steps for the measures at the workplace.

If your employee requires a longer sick leave, stay in contact with them. Ask them how they are doing and give them news from the workplace. Show that it matters to you that they will be able to do their job successfully when they return to work. This enables them to feel that you value them and their work contribution and their presence in the work community in the future too.

Immediately at the start of the employee’s sick leave, agree on how and how often you will communicate. Otherwise, your employee may not understand why you are calling and writing them and may feel that your messages are stressful or may misunderstand their intent. Select a mode of communication that best suits your employee.

In addition to you, also your occupational health services can be in contact with your employee. This is sensible especially at the start of the absence or if your employee suffers from burnout or is depressed. Agree on the participation of the occupational health services in the communication immediately when your employee starts their sick leave and inform the employee.

When you maintain regular contact with your employee, it will be more natural to discuss their return to work. Talk about it well before their sick leave ends. Plan how you will accommodate their work and what support measures might be needed. Ask your occupational health services for support, when you need it.

You can ask the occupational health services for an assessment of your employee’ work ability if their work ability has weakened due to health reasons. Request the work ability assessment in writing and fill in the relevant form. The form is available from your workplace or your occupational health services partner.

Include in the form

  1. the situation or the events that have raised your concerns  
  2. the issues that you have discussed with your employee   
  3. your employee’s view of the situation.

Once the occupational health physician receives your request, they will make a comprehensive assessment of your employee’s work ability and state of health impacting it. Sometimes the assessment can be completed quickly, but sometimes opinions from specialised physicians and other professionals are required, in which case it will take longer.

The occupational health services will only provide information on your employee’s state of health if they have given their consent. You will get a work ability assessment in any case. Occupational health collaboration involves discussing the results of the work ability assessment together at the work ability negotiations, which involve the supervisor, employee and occupational health services’ representative.

Work ability or occupational health negotiations involve discussing with your employee and occupational health services’ representative the employee’s work ability and functional capacity in relation to the job demands and workload. Before the work ability negotiations, think about how you could accommodate the employee’s work and what other support measures you could take. Have an open mind when it comes to these so that it is easy for you to find solutions that suit your employee and your workplace.

Listen carefully to what your employee and occupational health services’ representative have to say in the negotiations. Describe the options you had outlined in advance. Assess them together and come up with new ones. You support your employee’s work ability when you do the following, for example: 

  • you accommodate your employee’s work and work environment temporarily or permanently
  • you acquire assistive devices or suitable tools for performing the work 
  • you arrange flexible working hours for your employee
  • you encourage and enable a work trial or partial sickness absence
  • you assess the possibility of partial sickness allowance and alternative work together with your employee and occupational health services
  • you assess the possibility of vocational and other rehabilitation together with your employee and occupational health services

The discussion may be easier if you have a work ability assessment at your disposal. The assessment will help you understand your employee’s situation and consider the options that are suited to their work ability and state of health. You can arrange work ability negotiations also without a work ability assessment.

Your employee cannot always return to their previous job. That is why you sometimes need to consider with other teams and departments whether your employee could work in a new team or in a new department. Consider your employee’s situation from a wide perspective and think about what the consequences would be for them, for you and your employer if the employee cannot continue in their work or in any work at all. One of the consequences for the employer is the costs resulting from disability.

Adjusting work means the workplace measures through which the work can be made to correspond with the employee’s work ability and functional capacity. Work accommodations areis one of the most important actions with which you can support your employee to continue their work or return to it after a long sick leave.

You can first accommodate their work temporarily. Temporary accommodation is sensible when your employee returns to work as a convalescent or when you or they are not sure how they will cope in their work. This allows them to recover while doing their work. If you know that your employee has a permanent injury or disability, accommodate the work permanently from the beginning.

You should remember that a work environment designed to be accessible supports the coping at work and return to work of all employees. This means fewer individual work accommodation measures.

When you begin to think about accommodating your employee’s work, don’t focus on their illness. Instead, focus first on the tasks and circumstances that they can still manage, and then the ones that they have trouble managing due to their weakened work ability. The diagnosis is not important. If, for example, your employee has rheumatism or multiple sclerosis, they may find it as difficult to perform a specific task as an employee recovering from a broken bone. The same may apply to someone suffering from a mental disorder.

Think about what tasks are possible and which are not and how they could be accommodated to be suitable. Also consider whether the changes will be temporary or permanent. As a supervisor, you hold a key position and have a significant impact on how work is accommodated and how it works out.

Examples of work accommodations

You accommodate your employee's work when you do the following, for example: 

  • Limit the tasks so that your employee focuses only on a specific task or tasks
  • Divide the tasks into smaller parts.   
  • Adjust the goals so that your employee experiences less stress.   
  • Let your employee do their work without a schedule or deadline. 
  • Appoint a work partner or support person for your employee. 
  • Quieten the work environment so that your employee has a dedicated quiet workspace and the possibility to focus on work without continuous interruptions.
  • Arrange the working hours: regular or shorter working hours, avoiding overtime, moving over from evening or night work to a day job.    
  • Improve work flexibility, i.e. offer the opportunity to work from home and to divide up vacation days.    
  • Encourage your employee to develop their competence.   
  • Make sure that the work environment is accessible.
  • Look for to accessible commuting alternatives.
  • Acquire assistive devices or suitable tools for performing the work.

Support for work accommodation

The employment and business office can offer support for arranging working conditions. Read more about the TE Office’s support (te-palvelut.fi).

Kela can be applied to for support for the acquisition of tools that assist working. Read more about Kela’s support (kela.fi).

When your employee returns to work after a long sick leave, they need your support and that of the whole work community. As a supervisor, you have a decisive influence on the attitudes and workplace atmosphere.

You know the work demands and opportunities. It is your job to find out what the limitations are and to decide on what work accommodation measures are required at the workplace, and to inform the work community of the modifications in work arrangements. For example, when an employee returns as a part-time employee or their work is accommodated, some of their tasks must be transferred to other employees. You should talk about these changes together with the other members of the work community.

Together with the occupational health services, you can estimate the need for a paid work trial by decision of occupational health services, partial sickness allowance and rehabilitation to support the employee’s return to work.

Work trial by decision of occupational health services

In a work trial, your employee will try performing their work with some adjustments or entirely new tasks. A work trial lasts no more than three months. An occupational health work trial is used at an early stage of work ability problems when the employee has not yet been diagnosed as at risk of disability, but you are not certain that they can return to their work. The employee carries out the work trial in their own adjusted work or in some other job.

The occupational health services negotiate on arranging the work trial with the employee and employer. The employer decides on arranging the work trial and pays a salary for the duration of the work trial, as well as the statutory insurance and fringe benefits, and participates in other costs. Kela pays the employer rehabilitation allowance for the duration of the work trial.

Partial sickness allowance

Partial sickness allowance is the most common support measure used for returning to work. Returning to work on a part-time basis is always voluntary for both the employee and employer. You must assess its use together with the occupational health services.

An employee can receive it when

  1. they are still unable to work due to their illness, but a physician thinks that they can return to work part-time without their recovery being jeopardised  
  2. their working hours are reduced by 40–60 per cent from their earlier level  
  3. their part-time work will last at least 12 weekdays and no more than 120 weekdays, consecutively.

The aim of the arrangement is for the employee to be able to then transfer to full-time work. When a physician has assessed the employee’s situation, the physician will write a Medical Certificate B. In addition, the employer and employee must fill in the “Notice - Partial sickness allowance” form (SV 28). The form can be filled in online and sent to Kela. Fill in the form (kela.fi).

Rehabilitation options

The objective of the rehabilitation provided by Kela and the earnings-related pension company’s vocational rehabilitation is always to enable your employee to continue in working life. Look into rehabilitation options and plan how to apply for it together with the occupational health services.

1. Rehabilitation provided by Kela

Kela arranges different types of rehabilitation courses that apply to maintaining and restoring physical and mental work ability and functional capacity and for continuing in working life. Read more about Kela’s rehabilitation options (kela.fi).

2. Vocational rehabilitation from Ilmarinen

If the support measures for returning to work are not enough, Ilmarinen’s vocational rehabilitation may be an option for your employee. Your employee can apply for rehabilitation from Ilmarinen. The employee receives support from vocational rehabilitation for returning to work that is suitable for their state of health. Read more about Ilmarinen's vocational rehabilitation.

If you cannot find work that suits your employee’s state of health at your workplace, your employee may find work after the work trial in a new job under a new employer. If the employee learns a new profession with the support of vocational rehabilitation and fails to find employment right after graduating, the TE services, for example, will assist them in applying for a job and finding employment.