As we shared last week, February is Eating Disorders Awareness month. Not only is this a time for friends and families of people with eating disorders to educate themselves on the damaging effects of these diseases — it’s also a time for the employers of eating disorder patients to consider how they can best support those employees.
Receiving treatment for an eating disorder can allow your employee to return to their regular life — but due to the stigmas surrounding eating disorders, many people struggling with them do not come forward for diagnosis and treatment until the disease is at an advanced stage. For this reason, it’s easier and more effective to prevent eating disorders rather to cure them, which is why we advocate the creation of a workplace wellness program that promotes healthy behaviors.
Still, there are ways a company can support an employee with an eating disorder, outlined below.
Supporting an Employee With an Eating Disorder
Include Eating Disorder Screening in Your Workplace Wellness Program
Your workplace wellness program should include a screening component in which your employees are checked for a potential eating disorder. You can include surveys or risk factor assessments that gauge which employees are at-risk for developing an eating disorder — or which ones may already be suffering from one. The first step to handling an employee eating disorder is to first identify it.
You should be aware that social perceptions of eating disorders may prevent those suffering from coming forward with information about their eating disorder. For this reason, it’s a good idea to provide alternative forms of self-reporting to your employees. Rather than a face-to-face screening with a health care provider, they may respond better to a computer-based survey. The goal is to create the safest environment for your employees to come forward with their eating disorder so that they can get the treatment they need.
Provide Necessary Accommodations
If an employee does disclose an eating disorder to you, you’ll need to work with them to provide the necessary accommodations so that they can pursue treatment and continue with work after their treatment. This could include, but is not limited to:
- Flexibility to make and attend doctor’s appointments
- More frequent breaks to allow the recovering patient to eat small, balanced meals
- Modified job duties depending on their physical condition, including reduced exertion (be sure to support these modifications with documentation from their health care providers)
- Permitting the employee to call therapists or treatment professionals during work hours
- Creating an “open door” policy for the employee to speak with their supervisor
If your employee’s eating disorder is severe enough, it may fall under the “serious medical conditions” of the Family and Medical Leave Act, in which case treatment for their eating disorder qualifies them for up to 90 days of leave to pursue treatment. The days do not need to be taken consecutively, meaning they can be used to cover regular doctor’s appointments or treatment under a nutritionist or therapist.
The American Disabilities Act requires employers to prove “reasonable accommodations” for persons with a disability, which includes an employee with an eating disorder. Futhermore, an eating disorder can change and reemerge even after treatment. This means you need to have constant lines of communication open with that employee, and that you should document your communication well. Your employee’s needs and progress must be updated periodically. Employers can speak with health care providers every 3-4 months to best integrate the employee back into the workplace and encourage recovery from their eating disorder. Routine physical examinations may also be necessary.
Be sure to document your employee’s job performance during their recovery from the eating disorder. Attendance, quality of work, volume of work, and their ability to meet deadlines, goals, and workplace standards should all be tracked. You should clearly state your expectations for their performance and be sure that they understand their responsibilities. Schedule check-ins with them in which you can discuss their successes and any shortcomings. You want to have a productive, honest dialogue with your employees as they undergo recovery from their eating disorder.
Help With an Eating Disorder Through Workplace Wellness
With an effective workplace wellness program, you can combat the damaging effects an eating disorder can have. Locate a wellness-certified Test Smartly Labs near you to see how we can help develop your workplace wellness program.