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18 May 2023 posted by Recovery Partners

A guide for Employers Supporting Staff with Irritable Bowel Disease

As an employer, it’s crucial to support employees with chronic health conditions like Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). IBD refers to conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions can cause an individual to experience periods of persistent symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fatigue for example.

Accommodating the needs of employees with IBD is critical in creating a supportive work environment that fosters productivity and wellbeing. 

Below are 5 practical tips for ensuring an equitable workplace that effectively supports staff managing IBD at work.

1. Understanding what is IBD?
 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) describes 2 main disorders, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. IBD symptoms have an impact on daily life. It may affect part of an individual’s bowels, colon, or any other part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus.

Common symptoms of IBD include:

      • Fever
      • Fatigue
      • Vomiting
      • Eye inflammation
      • Changes in appetite
      • Nausea
      • Stomach pain and cramps
      • Fluctuating weight loss
      • Kidney stones
      • Difficult bowel movements, including diarrhea
      • Joint pain

Familiarising yourself with a basic sense of knowledge about IBD ensures you can act more emphatically with staff, to make more informed decisions regarding workplace support. 

Note that symptoms may improve or flare up over time. The impact of IBD symptoms can differ from day-to-day.

2. Offer open communication
 

It is no secret of the importance of open communication for employees to feel valued at work. Open communication can improve engagement, strengthen teams and enhance trust.

Most importantly, open communication between an employer and employee can promote inclusion. This is especially true when an employee has to balance work with managing their chronic illness.

Employers should establish an environment where their employee can feel comfortable enough to choose to share health conditions and know that they won’t be treated differently. By fostering a culture of trust and understanding, you can better accommodate their needs and make appropriate workplace adjustments, dependent on their IBD.

3. Workplace accommodations and flexibility


Employers must communicate with employees managing IBD at work, to determine reasonable workplace accommodations. These may include flexible work hours to accommodate medical appointments.

It is also necessary to recognise that employees with IBD may experience flare-ups or unpredictable symptoms. In these instances, employers should ensure their staff have access to clean and conveniently located restroom facilities. Bathrooms located offsite, or require the use of stairs to enter, are not accessible accommodations for people with IBD.

Be flexible in allowing them to adjust their work schedules, to manage their condition effectively. Avoid penalising employees for circumstances beyond their control. 

By making these adjustments, you can help alleviate stress and provide a supportive environment.

4. Maintain confidentiality


It goes without saying, respect the privacy of others. This is relevant for any employee managing any chronic illness. Keep all medical information confidential and ensure that only relevant individuals are aware of the employee’s condition and necessary accommodations.

Confidentiality helps to ensure that an employee can feel safe to notify their supervisors, without fear of judgement, or more other apparent forms of discrimination, such as harassment and bullying. FairWork states that “Employees can’t be treated differently or worse because of their workplace rights, or for a discriminatory reason”

Maintaining confidentiality surrounding how an employee manages IBD can protect them from potentially being discriminated against and developing psychosocial hazards.

5. Offer Employee Assistance Programs


Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a service you can offer your employees that provides them with free counselling conducted by a registered psychologist or counsellor. EAP may additionally offer educational materials or referral networks that can aid an employee to manage symptoms.

Growing evidence from clinical and experimental studies suggests that stress acts as a promoting factor for IBD. EAP as a confidential service can assist with mental wellbeing and provide solutions to overcoming stress.

In summary, supporting employees with IBD is not only beneficial for their well-being, but also contributes to a positive work environment. 

Remember, each employee’s experience with IBD may vary. It is essential to engage in individual discussions and tailor support accordingly. By implementing these 5 practical tips, you can foster an equitable workplace that effectively supports staff managing IBD at work.

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/