~by Dixie Somers~
Eating disorders are among the most stigmatized, least-understood and most deadly mental disorders. For the concerned employer, it can be uncomfortable to address an employee’s eating disorder, but doing so is important for the productivity and reputation of your company. Follow the guidelines below for handling an eating disorder among employees.
Is it your place to confront the person about his or her eating disorder?
While you may be concerned about the health and well-being of your workforce, you must ask yourself if it is appropriate to bring up a health concern with this employee. If you suspect that an employee may have an eating disorder, start by educating yourself. Look into resources offered through the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
People with eating disorders are often careful workers with perfectionistic tendencies. You may notice little to no decrease in their productivity. They may tire quickly as their condition progresses, and they may experience mood swings. Memory loss and “blanking out” are signs that the individual is not getting adequate nutrition.
Depending on the nature of the work that you do, a decrease in your employee’s ability to focus or perform their work could be dangerous. You’ll have to consider this when deciding how to address the employee.
Not all eating disorders are apparent. While we often think of people suffering from anorexia as the poster children for eating disorders, some people with eating disorders appear to be healthy or overweight. In cases where the disordered behavior is obvious to other employees or the individual has an appearance that suggests an eating disorder, then your workforce may start to gossip. They may come to you with concerns about the person.
If your company has a Human Resources (HR) department, then you should always defer to them for policy information before addressing an employee. If other employees come to you with their own concerns, then you should also refer them to HR. If you notice gossip in the workplace, you should squash it. The person, whether they have an eating disorder or not, has a right to privacy concerning their health.
Understand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)
HIPPA is the law that protects a patient’s rights to privacy. As an employer, you may be privy to certain aspects of an employee’s medical condition. Doctors will not release information to you directly, however.
As a general policy, you should keep strict confidentiality when handling medical concerns in the workplace. If the employee chooses to inform your company’s HR department of a condition, the HR department must maintain confidentiality as well.
Understand the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The FMLA may pertain to some people diagnosed with eating disorders. If your employee meets these standards, then they are entitled to certain job protections as they go through the recovery process. If you terminate a worker due to a medical condition, they are protected under the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It is not your job to diagnose a disorder. You can only bring your concerns to the employee’s attention. Prior to having a meeting, collect notes about aspects of their work that you have noticed. Has productivity slumped? Has behavior become erratic? Be prepared to give the employee the facts and refer him or her to the appropriate resources.
The topic of if and when one should address an eating disorder within the context of the workplace involves many considerations. Maintain professionalism and be cognizant of the laws and policies surrounding employee health. If you have questions about how you can help, consider consulting a treatment center like Center for Change. However, as an employer, your job is to intervene only if it affects business or if the employee violates their employee contract. Resist the temptation to fix, diagnose or assume that you understand the issue, and empower your employee to seek the help he or she needs.
Meet the Author: Dixie Somers
Dixie Somers is a freelance writer who loves writing for business, finance, and those with an entrepreneurial spirit. She lives in Arizona with her husband and three beautiful daughters.