Explore how to help an employee with a brain injury progress in their career.

On returning to work

Is extra training required to enable return to work after a long absence?

Anyone who has been away from work for an extended period of time due to a career break, illness or parental leave will know that there can be a lot to catch up with on their return.

Catching up with changes in the workplace is likely to be even more challenging for an employee who has suffered a brain injury. Such injuries often result in a reduced cognitive processing speed which may make it difficult to learn and adapt to new processes and procedures. Indeed, it may be a struggle to return to and continue in an existing and unchanged role.

Extra training upon returning to work can be a difficult subject to discuss with an employee who was previously very capable and who may feel embarrassed or frustrated by their ongoing difficulties. They should be discussed in a sensitive and supportive way. You may want to consider the likely training needs of your employee in advance of their return to work.

It may be difficult to assess exactly what extra training your employee will require, so this should be kept under close review when they return to work. Where a need is identified, training should be provided as soon as possible.

Has their willingness to ask for help changed?

The psychological impact of brain injury should not be underestimated, particularly when it comes to returning to work. An employee who was previously a high performer in the workplace may find it incredibly difficult to accept that they are now an ‘average’ performer, or are struggling. They may not be able to understand how they are no longer able to reach the same standards that they had previously.

Employees who are returning to work following a brain injury may want to ‘keep up appearances’ with their employer if they are not performing to their previous level. They may also feel embarrassed about their colleagues realising they are struggling and could therefore be reluctant to ask for help.

Letting your employee know that they are supported and that they should not feel afraid to ask for help if they are struggling is important. Regular meetings to encourage discussion about how they are getting on, particularly in the first few months following their return, will be useful. You could also consider asking one of their colleagues in a similar role to volunteer as a ‘buddy’, so that they have somebody to go to if they need some help or support.

Encouraging open and honest communication is key to ensuring that a brain injured employee feels able speak up when they need help.

Are they self-aware about their changed abilities?

A brain injured employee’s self-awareness is normally linked to the severity of their injury, with employees who have suffered more severe injuries being less likely to have insight into the changes in their abilities.

An employee who lacks self-awareness may attempt to carry out tasks that are beyond their capability, which in some situations could put them at risk. Consider, for example, a person who has a brain injury leading to significant weakness in one arm attempting to lift and carry a heavy box.

If you have an employee who you suspect may lack awareness about their changed level of ability, this will need to be handled very carefully. There should be a medical assessment of the employee’s abilities before they start back at work, or as soon as possible after you notice their lack of awareness, and this can be discussed with them.

If a person starts back to work and it becomes apparent that they are unaware of their reduced level of ability, the issue should be raised in a sensitive way. It may come as a surprise to them and they may not appreciate that their abilities have changed without objective information about their performance. If they were previously a high performer, this may be especially difficult for them to accept.

You should consider the ways in which your employee could be supported to achieve their maximum potential.

Throughout employment

Are extra management meetings required?

It is a good idea to have more regular management meetings, irrespective of the extent of brain injury an employee has suffered. An employee’s needs are likely to change as time passes and throughout their employment

Regular management meetings will help both you and your employee to identify any issues early on and to make any changes required. They will also provide an opportunity to review any arrangements or adaptations that have been made, to see what is working and what is not. You both may also have new ideas about further changes that could help them day-to-day.

Regular and open communication can really help both employees and employers to feel supported and achieve their best, whilst avoiding micro-management.

How should opportunities for progression and promotion be considered?

Opportunities for progression and promotion should be considered in the same way as for any other employee working for you. Of course, the employee will need to meet the criteria, but you should ensure that there are no barriers to promotion because of their injuries that could be avoided, such as the manner of assessment or interview.

You should also consider the criteria carefully to ensure that anything which the employee might have difficulty meeting is reasonably required. (In legal terms, ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.) Otherwise, a complaint could be made of indirect discrimination under section 19 of the Equality Act 2010.

It may be that the employee’s desire for promotion has changed following their injury. This may be something that they are not even considering initially whilst they get used to being back at work. They may lack confidence in their abilities following their brain injury.

If the employee has not indicated their desire to pause their progression in the workplace, you should discuss promotions with the employee as you would have had the brain injury not occurred.

Any decision to change their route of progression should come from the employee. This will help the employee to feel valued and achieve their best. It will also avoid the employer discriminating against the employee, either on grounds of their disability (contrary to section 13 of the Equality Act 2010), or for any reason arising from their disability, i.e. their symptoms (contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010).

It is important to recognise this and help your employee reach their full potential. By having an open-minded and inclusive environment, an employee should not be put off applying for promotions.

Has the way that the person responds to feedback changed, and how will you deal with this?

The psychological effect of a brain injury can be devastating and personality changes are common following a brain injury. The effect may be as a result of the injury itself, or because they have gone through such a traumatic event.

Your employee may experience mental rigidity and become resistant to change. This may mean that they now rely upon systems and checklists to feel in control of their work and that change now involves careful management.

A brain injury can alter the way an employee feels or expresses an emotion. They may find it difficult to control their emotions, resulting in mood swings. You may find that an employee who had a mild temperament has become more confrontational. Temper outbursts and irritability are common in people who have suffered a brain injury.

Alternatively, they may be more anxious, particularly about making mistakes. Depression and frustration are also common.

By meeting regularly with your employee, and regularly communicating, you will come to appreciate the triggers for emotional reactions. Negative feedback can be hard for your employee to hear but it is important to give this when required, so that they can develop. Framing feedback in a positive way will often help.

You will also have to consider other employees and how this affects them. Engaging with the employee in this way will also help to prevent you from discriminating against the employee for any reason arising from their disability, i.e. their symptoms (contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010).

Specific triggers

How is planning for retirement affected?

You must not treat an employee any differently to others in relation to retirement on the basis of their brain injury. To do otherwise could lead to the employer being accused of discriminating against the employee, either on grounds of their disability (contrary to section 13 of the Equality Act 2010) or for any reason arising from their disability, i.e. their symptoms (contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010).

Whatever the age of the employee, talking about their future and work-based goals will help you to identify their training and development needs.  As it becomes appropriate, these meetings provide a good opportunity to discuss the employee’s wishes in relation to retirement. As with any other employee, this something that needs to be discussed carefully.

When considering the needs of an employee with a brain injury in relation to retirement, you may wish to take specialist advice on your legal obligations from an employment lawyer.

How is planning for maternity or paternity leave affected?

An employee’s entitlement to maternity or paternity leave is unaffected by their brain injury.   They will be entitled, as a minimum, to statutory leave, and your policy may be more generous than this. If this is the case, your policy should apply to the employee in exactly the same way as to other employees.

Where a female employee has a brain injury, this may mean that any later pregnancy is managed differently and that they require closer monitoring by doctors. This is likely to mean that they need more time off for medical appointments. Their childbirth and recovery may also require particularly careful medical management. They may need longer in hospital, for example, with extra aftercare in addition to the usual post-natal appointments.

When the employee returns to work after maternity or paternity leave, their return will need to be carefully planned with them. Meeting with them to talk about how they feel about returning and what reasonable adjustments they might need will help. It may be that the employee needs to return gradually. Maintaining communication with the employee during their leave will mean that you can consider the options and their needs.

When considering the needs of an employee with a brain injury in relation to maternity or paternity leave, it is very important to take specialist advice on your legal obligations from an employment lawyer.

If others get promoted ahead of the brain injured person, how should this be managed?

Where, perhaps during the time they had off work immediately following their injury, someone has progressed in their absence, this will change the dynamic when the brain injured employee returns to work.

After a brain injury, an employee may experience a heightened emotional reaction to another employee being promoted ahead of them. If you are concerned that this may be an issue, you should meet with the employee to discuss their own opportunities for progression. You may want to suggest making a ‘promotion plan’ with the employee so that they know there is an opportunity for them to progress.

They may be frustrated because of the effects of the brain injury and be concerned that they won’t be able to progress as they had planned. You should discuss with the employee whether there is anything you can do to help them work towards promotion. This will help to prevent the employee feeling that they have been treated less favourably and unlawfully because of the effect of their disability, which would be contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010.

You should also consider the requirements for promotion and whether they can reasonably be altered to remove any substantial disadvantage suffered by the employee t as a result of their brain injury.

When considering the needs of an employee with a brain injury in relation to promotion, it is important to take specialist advice on your legal obligations from an employment lawyer.



Covid-19 update: Business as usual
at Bolt Burdon Kemp

Bolt Burdon Kemp continues to remain very much open for business. We are passionate about achieving life-changing results for our clients, providing excellent client care and ensuring you receive the support you need.

We continue to progress our clients’ existing cases and support new clients with their cases.

All of our wonderful people are successfully working from home. We have re-opened our office so that those who need to work in the office are able to do so, in a socially distanced and safe manner. 

Our strategy of working in teams continues to ensure there is always someone for you to talk to. We are using telephone and video-conferencing very effectively. A number of multi-million pound cases have settled since the virus outbreak, using these facilities.

We are determined more than ever that the wheels of justice will keep on turning.

Contact us on 020 7288 4800 or and one of our team will get in touch with you.

Read more from Managing Partner, Jonathan Wheeler