The Employer/COPD Connection

How can employers better work with COPD patients?

In addition to having lung issues myself, I am a respiratory therapist by trade. I work in a hospital setting as well as a clinic. I meet hundreds of people per month and I always enjoy getting to know the people I take care of and hearing their stories and where they are on their COPD journey. I also hear a lot about their struggles and one topic that comes up frequently is issues and frustrations with employers.

Tips for the employer of someone with COPD:

Listen

One of the most important things an employer can do to work better with people with COPD is to LISTEN. COPD is not a one size fits all disease and each person is at a different point in their journey. From staging to symptoms to triggers, everyone is different. What sets my lungs off and into a flare might be different than the person next to me.

Be accommodating

Something that may seem small can make the world of difference to a person with COPD. Offering a convenient close-up parking space, for example, can help so much! Allowing for breaks to use a nebulizer when necessary. Depending on the type of business, having a work station or office close to the door can make it so a person with COPD won’t have to walk too far when walking is difficult. Avoid having workspaces cleaned or routine maintenance that might cause dust during working hours.

Go scent free

This is a big one. There are many places of employment that already have adopted this policy, the hospital I work at being one. It would be nice if all places of business went scent-free. The most frustrating is when you are at work and can’t “escape” the scent that is triggering your breathing problems. Or have to go to a doctors appointment and a medical staff member smells like they took a bath in perfume or cologne. Consider switching to scent-free or non-harsh cleaning products. This is something not everyone thinks about when they don't have any breathing issues themselves. Harsh cleaning chemicals will almost immediately send my lungs into a flare.

Tips for the employee with COPD

Communicate and educate manager and coworkers

Have an open line of communication with your manager and coworkers about your COPD and symptoms. Be upfront with them about things that might trigger your breathing difficulties. Educate your coworkers about COPD and what your needs and triggers are. Chances are pretty good that not all of your coworkers and management really know and understand what COPD is and how it can cause a flare-up.

Doctor involvement

It might be a good idea to have a letter from your doctor stating that you do indeed have COPD on file at your work with both the Human Resources department as well as your manager. It is unfortunate that not all employers always believe their employees, but sometimes it does happen.

These are just a few tips that both employers and employees can benefit from. I would love to hear the experiences of others who might also have tips to share!

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