Arthritis Consumer Experts selects City of Ottawa and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network for best arthritis workplace practices in Canada

To recognize the best arthritis workplace practices in Canada, Arthritis Consumer Experts (ACE) today announced the winners of its third annual search for Canada’s Best Workplaces for Employees Living with Arthritis.

Many Canadian workers struggle to find the right balance between work, family and personal responsibilities, particularly employees with chronic disease who are becoming an increasingly high proportion of the workforce due to aging, arthritis chief among them. Canadian employers who understand chronic disease, particularly the impact of a disease like arthritis, are implementing adaptations in their work environments to accommodate employees. Based on workplace insights shared by employees and company managers, ACE is awarding the City of Ottawa and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network for their arthritis awareness, prevention and benefits practices in the workplace.

“Research at Arthritis Research Canada shows that workers with arthritis who have more flexible work arrangements, more autonomy on how they do their job and organize their schedule, and who have received job accommodations, are more productive at work and less likely to become work disabled1,” said Cheryl Koehn, Founder and President, Arthritis Consumer Experts. Koehn added: “During the past three years of our Best Arthritis Workplaces program, employees with arthritis have consistently told us that finding a workplace that supports job accommodation is a priority in their job choice, even at the expense of salary or advancement.”

Job accommodation is vitally important for Canadian workers with arthritis due to the significant impact arthritis has on the work force and its cost to society. Arthritis is the most common cause of work disability in Canada, costing $13.6 billion per year, according to an estimate of the economic burden of illness by Statistics Canada – 1 in 136 workers has rheumatoid arthritis, the most disabling and costly type of arthritis and that number will double in 30 years. In addition, studies by Dr. Diane Lacaille, Senior Research Scientist at Arthritis Research Canada, have clearly shown that the cost of being present, but less productive, is higher than the cost of being absent, with a workforce survey showing the cost was four times higher than the cost of missed days from work.

Commenting on ACE’s award program, managers at the winning organizations shared the view that what employees living with arthritis really want out of companies is flexibility, and an opportunity for better work-life balance.

Award presentation to City of Ottawa (From left to right: Cheryl Koehn, ACE; Marianne Phillips, Director, Human Resources, Donna Gray, General Manager, Service Innovation and Performance Department, Mayor Jim Watson; Kelly Lendvoy, ACE)

“The health and wellbeing of our employees is incredibly important at the City of Ottawa, which is why we have developed workplace accommodation policies and initiatives to provide an inclusive, barrier-free work environment,” said Mayor Jim Watson. “This award recognizes the work we have done and the value we place on our employees.”
“APTN is an exceptional workplace, and our organization’s success depends on our employees. We recognize the importance of each team member’s health and well-being,” says Jean La Rose, APTN Chief Executive Officer. “Our benefits often exceed those offered by many other companies and are designed to keep our team – physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially healthy. This award truly reflects the great amount of respect for and understanding of the complexities employees living with a chronic disease face.”
In the third year of the program that recognizes the best arthritis practices of leading companies throughout Canada, ACE received more than 56 submissions. Many of the nominated companies, including the City of Ottawa and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, cover 100 percent of the cost of their employees’ health care premiums. At the same time, the vast majority of our nominated companies also provide a wide variety of alternative work options that enable employees with arthritis to deal with pain, stiffness, fatigue, depression, or flares, including compressed work weeks, flexible working hours, job sharing, short term sick leave, rest periods and reduced work week.

1. Lacaille D, White MA, Rogers PA, Backman CL, Gignac MA, Esdaile JM. Étude de validation de principe du programme « Employment and Arthritis: Making It Work ». Arthritis Rheum 2008:15;59(11):1647-55.

Selecting our winners
To determine which companies provide the most innovative and comprehensive programs and best practices, ACE compared candidate companies based on the following criteria:

Organizational Benefits
  • Job accommodation
  • Health insurance
  • Reimbursement of prescribed arthritis treatments and services on extended benefit plan
  • Short- and long-term disability benefits
  • Work-at-home policies
  • Job-sharing opportunities
  • Flexible work hours
  • Sick leave/well days off
  • Leave of absence policy
  • Return to work assistance
  • Family leave
  • Child care.
Employee Education
  • Health and wellness/ergonomic/arthritis information shared through employee communication tools
  • Employee counselling
  • Health and wellness policies
  • Communication of employee benefit plans
  • Peer support groups.
Physical Workplace
  • Workplace adaptability/programs related to workstation/ergonomics
  • On-site physical fitness facilities
  • Stretch and fitness breaks
  • Bike lockers/showers
  • Healthy food options in cafeteria or vending machines.

The transparency about the reasons for selection in our Best Workplaces program means the nomination and interview process helps shine a light on progressive employers, while allowing other organizations to discover, and hopefully emulate, what they are doing well in terms of arthritis best practices," said Cheryl Koehn, President, Arthritis Consumer Experts. She adds: "Based on our experience the past three years running this program, we are finding there is a ripple effect where employers appear to learn from one another, creating new internal practices and, in some cases, raising expectations, such as for arthritis education and screening programs in the workplace. There are always new ways to improve arthritis awareness, whether through small or large changes."

Health and Wellness:
An employer/employee top priority

As employees indicated to ACE during interviews, health and wellness benefits, these days, are extremely important. As healthcare costs continue to rise, some employers have reduced the portion of employee healthcare coverage they pay for.

That hasn't been the case for the majority of businesses that were nominated for ACE's "Best Workplaces." In fact, most of the nominated companies pick up at least 80 percent of the cost of employees' annual healthcare premiums. Many of the companies, including L'Oréal Canada and SFU, continue to cover 100 percent of the cost of their employees' healthcare premiums.

At the same time, the vast majority of our nominated companies continue to cover a wide variety of other health benefits. More than 9 in 10 top workplaces offer dental, vision, mental health, and prescription drug coverage as well as coverage for alternative treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic care. As healthcare costs creep up, more top workplaces are also offering health and wellness screenings and other incentives to keep employees fit and feeling good.

Commenting on the value of workplace health and wellness, Cheryl Koehn said: "Creating a healthy workplace is no easy task in today's demanding work environment. The organizational benefits of a healthy workplace are many—including reduced healthcare costs, improved productivity, and increased employee attraction and retention. This program has revealed to us the evolution of corporate Canada's arthritis awareness and examples of prevention and treatment in action and truly is one of the most engaging aspects of the project."

What you need to know about arthritis in the workplace

Arthritis is the most common cause of work disability in Canada and typically occurs during prime working years, between ages 35-50. According to the Arthritis Alliance of Canada, arthritis costs the Canadian economy more than $6.4 billion annually. Lost workdays due to long-term disability account for approximately two-thirds of this total.

One in six Canadian employees has osteoarthritis. That number is expected to rise to 1 in 3 Canadians by 2020. One out of every 136 Canadian workers lives with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but that will increase to 1 in 68 workers by 2020. Within ten years of the onset of RA, up to 50% of employees living with RA are work disabled if left under- or untreated.

Dr. Diane Lacaille of the Arthritis Research Canada has conducted studies to determine what workplace factors are closely linked to the risk of a work disability lasting six months or longer. She found that high physical demand, low job independence (i.e. minimal control over the pace of work and how duties are performed) and poor support from co-workers aggravated arthritis symptoms and accounted for longer absences from work.

ACE Editorial:
A red flag in private health insurance

In September 2015, one of Canada's largest private health insurers, announced a new oversight program that will change the way it will monitor and evaluate new medications coming to the market in an attempt to help plan sponsors (e.g. employers) contain rising drug costs. This new policy will not list new Health Canada-approved drugs considered "high cost", such as biologic response modifiers for inflammatory arthritis, to its formulary in a timely manner. Instead, the high cost drugs will be placed on a "watch and wait" list until the public drug cost-effectiveness review process – a lengthy process that often takes up to a year – makes a determination about the drugs' affordability.

What do these changes mean for employees living with arthritis, the leading cause of disability in Canada? For employees living with inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and forms of spondylitis, this new set of policies potentially restricts timely and appropriate access to necessary medications and represent short-term solutions for cost savings that in the long term could generate negative health outcomes for employees.

Consider what the scientific evidence says:
  • The significant cost drivers for employers with respect to employees living with rheumatoid arthritis is short- and long-term disability – before the arrival of biologic response modifiers, nearly 70% of those with moderate to severe disease were permanently work disabled
  • The most common type of inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis and it is three times more common in women than in men and occurs most frequently between 30 and 50 years of age, during the prime of their working, professional lives
  • Another significant cost driver in the employee population with inflammatory types of arthritis is presenteeism, or reduced productivity while at work, which costs four times more to employers than time missed from work (i.e. absenteeism).
  • Current research proves irrefutably that timely treatment initiation in employees with newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis or those with rheumatoid arthritis who do not respond (or respond poorly) to older, less powerful treatments is essential to achieving optimal health outcomes and keeping people on the job, and that delays in getting the treatment needed leads to greater risk of work disability down the road.
  • For those employees who need them and quickly, biologic response modifiers are the most effective treatments available today and have the ability to, in some cases, arrest the disease.
  • Studies in rheumatoid arthritis show that a delay of more than 12 weeks from symptom onset to therapy initiation results in a lower chance of going into remission and an increased chance of progressive joint damage.
A "watch and wait" approach runs contrary to all of this scientific evidence and will result in employees, with inflammatory arthritis who rely on private health insurance, enduring pain and joint damage and landing on employers' permanent work disability cost column. "Waiting" for effective drugs to be made available to people with uncontrolled inflammation is contrary to the evidence that a patient's response to therapy declines the longer the wait.

ACE fully appreciates the private insurance industry is facing its own crisis: sustainability. In our ongoing discussions with private payers and the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, we often hear about the industry's commitment to providing timely reimbursement of the best medicines to achieve the goals of preventing permanent disability and loss of employment. ACE will continue to meet with these decision makers to ensure they fulfill that important commitment to the thousands of employees working with arthritis in Canada.