Supporting someone back to work after a brain injury

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Employers need to know how to make this transition as smooth and supportive as possible

For employers it can be hard to see how they will be able to support an employee when they return to work after a brain injury. The type and severity of their injury can vary enormously, and it’s not always clear at first what difficulties and needs the employee will have. The injury could affect their social skills, behaviour and relationships with other colleagues, or could change how someone concentrates, learns, processes and remembers things.

When looking at how you may adapt the workplace – whether that’s physical adjustments to make it more accessible or changing the hours of the employee’s working day – it’s essential that you discuss any changes with the individual, and ask them for their input.

Here are some measures to consider:

1. First assess the needs of the employee and make appropriate adaptations. Formal assessment and guidance from an occupational therapist and qualified medical professional are very helpful to understand what is required. It could be that you will need to make physical adjustments to the office – such as accessible walkways and grab rails for an employee whose brain injury has left them with physical impairments. Or specialist equipment – for example larger monitors for those with sight problems. Reasonable adjustments have to be made for those with a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

2. Make sure the employee feels supported and is given extra training. It’s helpful to create a return to work plan in accordance with the employee’s needs. Consider setting up a buddy system – a buddy can co-ordinate the return and be the go-to person when the worker has any questions. Provide extra training for as it can be hard for those with a brain injury to relearn how to use existing equipment and to adapt to upgrades or new products.

3. Adjust the workload and working day to suit the person. Their workload may need to be reduced on a temporary or permanent basis depending on the extent of the brain injury and how it affects them. A brain injury that affects their cognitive abilities may necessitate smaller more manageable tasks. Offering a phased return to work or a reduction/flexibility in working hours may be beneficial. It could take longer for the individual to travel to and from work, and they may need to attend regular medical appointments or take medication.

4. Keep an eye out for the employee having difficulties in their interactions with colleagues. A brain injury may affect how they form relationships and their behaviour with others. It may be that they seem different to how they were before their injury and it could take time to get to know them again. It’s important that you manage any situation that arises carefully. This could be by sharing information with their colleagues about the effect of their brain injury (if the worker has given their permission), or adjusting teams to resolve any difficulties. As an employer you have a duty to provide all staff with a safe working environment.

It’s important to be accommodating and patient after someone with a brain injury returns to work, particularly during the early period of transition. Ensuring their return runs as smoothly as possible will be beneficial. Helping other team members see how they can support their colleague effectively will help them to understand their new approach to work. Have regular catch-ups with the employee to see how they are progressing and be flexible about any changes to the workplace.

Suzanne Trask is partner and head of the medical negligence team at Bolt Burdon Kemp

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