Leaders' views key for employees with disabilities: researchers aim to improve work outcomes and limit discrimination for employees with physical and mental health challenges

Despite things such as human resources policies that are designed to ensure equal treatment for all employees, the relationship that people with disabilities have with their supervisors is what really shapes their job outcomes, says a Haskayne School of Business researcher.

“We often talk about the negative outcomes of having a disability,” says Zhanna Lyubykh, a PhD student at the Haskayne School of Business. “My question was, ‘What can be done to improve work experiences for people with disabilities?’”

Lyubykh is the co-author of a study on the problem that was recently published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. It was based on a survey of 264 people in the U.S. with musculoskeletal disabilities, along with a separate survey of 221 people who have supervised employees with disabilities. The study was also co-authored by Dr. Mafooz Ansari, PhD, and Dr. Kelly Williams-Whitt, PhD, of the Dillon School of Business at the University of Lethbridge, and Dr. Vicki L. Kristman, PhD, of the EPID@Work Research Institute at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. 

For the full story click here.

Student Research Assistant Opportunity Available

Student Research Assistant, EPID@Work Research Institute Lakehead University

Category: Student Research Staff

Administrative/ Staff Positions - Thunder Bay Campus

Department: EPID@Work Research Institute

Application Deadline: Open until filled

Start date: Jan, 4th, 2021 

Student Research Assistant (one positions available)

EPID@Work Research Institute

Thunder Bay Campus 

Part-time, to the end of April 30, 2021- with the possibility for renewal

We are looking for a highly motivated individual to work as a project coordinator and to assist in a mixed methods project. Research activities include  participant recruitment, data collection, data entry and analysis using Nvivo software, etc ). Funding for this position is made available through the SSHRC-IDG. This position is available under the leadership of Dr. Manal Alzghoul, School of Nursing and Dr. Vicki Kristman, Director, Enhancing the Prevention of Injury and Disability (EPID) @ Work Research Institute.

Requirements / Qualifications:

·       Graduate student enrolled at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay campus

·       Knowledge of NVivo software

·       Results oriented work ethic to work independently and undertake tasks needed to accomplish work objectives

Candidates should send their full curriculum vitae, a one-page cover letter outlining their interest and two academic references to:

Dr. Manal Alzghoul

School of Nursing or EPID@Work Research Institute

Lakehead University, 955 Oliver Road,

Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 5E1

Email: Malzghou@lakeheadu.ca or epid.hbsc@lakeheadu.ca

Review of applications will begin December 1st, 2020 and will continue until the positions are filled.

Lakehead University is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment and welcomes applications from all qualified individuals including women, racialized persons, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other equity-seeking groups. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be given priority. This is in accordance with Canadian immigration requirements.

We appreciate your interest; however, only those selected for an interview will be notified. Lakehead University is committed to supporting an accessible environment. Applicants requiring accommodation during the interview process should contact the Office of Human Resources at (807) 343-8334 or human.resources@lakeheadu.ca to make appropriate arrangements.


Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Study - Invitation to Participate

Drs. Deborah Scharf and Anna Koné are looking for individuals that provide services to injured and ill workers involved in the WSIB claim application process to participate in their study entitled Mental Health Needs of Thunder Bay and District Injured and Ill Workers in the WSIB Process.

Would you be interested in sharing your experiences providing services to injured and ill workers involved in WSIB claim application process in an interview?

We hope to use these experiences to develop strategies to improve services for Thunder Bay and District injured and ill workers.

Please note that you are under no obligation to participate and that if you do decide to participate you will remain anonymous, and your participation will have no impact on your relationship with Lakehead University or your ability to access any services mentioned during the interview such as the WSIB.

If you are interested contact us at 807-343-8563 or wcstudy.psych@lakeheadu.ca for more information or to set up an interview.

Dept of Health Sciences Student Funding Opportunity: Dr. Vicki Kristman

For September 2021 admissions, all applicants choosing to conduct a thesis or dissertation with Dr. Vicki Kristman in the area of injury or work disability prevention that is relevant to the EPID@Work Research Institute will be considered for an additional Entrance Scholarship. Preference will be given to PhD and MHSc applicants. Dr. Kristman has two awards available for 2021 entry:

1) One award of $5,000 will be made available to the highest-ranking applicant for 2021 entry. This Award is made possible through Dr. Kristman’s Early Researcher Award funded by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (OMRI).  

2) An award of $15,000 is available for two years for a student to contribute to the CIHR-funded project “Evaluating the Wiiji app to improve Indigenous workplace mental health: a mixed-methods approach”. The successful student will be expected to contribute considerable effort to the project and develop a thesis/dissertation related to this project. Indigenous students preferred. Please contact Dr. Kristman directly for more details about the project.

All students awarded scholarships through Dr. Kristman will become student members of the EPID@Work Research Institute.

Funding Year(s): 2021/2022

How to Apply:  No specific application is required for any of these awards beyond application to the program. For the CIHR-funded award, please include some thoughts around a potential thesis topic in your letter of intent. It is recommended that you contact Dr. Kristman for further details before preparing your application.

Internal Deadline: February 1, 2020

Award Category: Scholarship

Comments:  For more Health Sciences funding opportunities, see our Student Funding Opportunities page

Funding Source: Internal

Programs Applicable To: 

Health Sciences

Public Health

Funding Level: Masters/PhD

September EPID Talks Presentation Posted for Viewing


Please visit our EVENTS page by clicking HERE to access the presentation.

EPID@Work & NOSM Researchers Receiving $330k in Research Funding

Researchers from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and EPID@Work/Lakehead University are receiving more than $330,000 from the Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund (OHCRIF) for projects that will benefit health-care workers and immigrants.


Click HERE to read more.

Save the Date! Special Virtual Sessions: COVID-19 & OSH October 5th/6th

Due to the worldwide impact of COVID-19, the XXII World Congress on Safety and Health at Work has decided to host  special sessions on October 5th and 6th. 

For more information on these free virtual sessions, please click HERE 

Update: XXII World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2021

For more information, click Here

Research Opportunity: Post-doctoral fellowship in Indigenous Workplace Studies, EPID@Work, Thunder Bay Campus

Post-doctoral fellowship in Indigenous Workplace Studies, Thunder Bay Campus

Category: Post-doctoral fellow

Administrative/Staff Positions - Thunder Bay Campus

Department: EPID@Work Research Institute

Application Deadline: Open until filled, will start reviewing applications on August 24, 2020

Start Date: as early as September 14, 2020

Post-doctoral fellowship

Thunder Bay Campus

 Full-time, one-year with possibility of renewal up to two years in duration

We are looking for a highly motivated individual with a solid research background in mixed methods and Indigenous research methodologies, occupational health and/or public health with a strong interest in Indigenous research. Funding for this position is made available through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This position is available under the leadership of Dr. Vicki Kristman, Director, Enhancing the Prevention of Injury and Disability (EPID) @ Work Research Institute, and in association with the Department of Health Sciences, Lakehead University. This fellowship offers the opportunity to gain and contribute knowledge to the area of Indigenous workplace health.


The fellow will have the opportunity for active research mentoring and manuscript and grant writing.  Responsibilities include engagement of First Nations communities, study coordination and supervision of personnel, participant recruitment, conducting focus groups, statistical analyses and/or qualitative data analyses, and manuscript/grant preparations. Applicants must have completed a PhD in a relevant discipline. Experience working with Indigenous communities is a strong asset. Multiple-year appointment is dependent on satisfactory performance.


Key Accountabilities:

  • Develop and implement work plans for current and new research projects as well as coordinate, oversee and execute study procedures and research protocols.
  • Apply for funding (award applications) to local, provincial, and/or national research agencies.
  • Collect, clean, and analyze data.
  • Write, prepare, edit, and format manuscripts for publications and grant applications.
  • Publish original research results obtained during tenure in appropriate journals and other recognized media.
  • Prepare presentations and posters relating to research.
  • Attend scientific conferences agreed upon in collaboration with Dr. Kristman to present results (subject to the availability of travel funds).
  • Support and provide consultation to other research staff.
  • Conduct literature reviews and other background research for manuscript and grant writing.
  • Discuss research findings with research team, collaborative partners, other researchers, etc.
  • Work collaboratively with the EPID@Work scientific team and Indigenous partners.
  • Participate in training and educational activities.
  • Supervision of students may be required.



  • A Ph.D., M.D., or equivalent degree with an emphasis on Indigenous occupational health.
  • Prior experience working with Indigenous populations preferred.
  • Current knowledge of and experience with research design, research methodologies, participant recruitment and testing, data analysis, and risk assessments.
  • Advanced statistical training and knowledge of statistical software packages and/or advanced qualitative analysis and knowledge of qualitative analytic software (i.e. NVIVO).
  • Evidence of experience in preparation and publication of manuscripts; strong technical writing skills.
  • Results oriented work ethic to work independently and undertake tasks needed to accomplish work objectives and deliver quality, consistent and timely results.
  • Demonstrated leadership, conflict resolution, interpersonal and organizational skills.
  • Proven ability to adapt readily to change.
  • Models and promotes core ethical practice, and reflects an optimistic and positive attitude.


Candidates should send their full curriculum vitae with a list of publications, a one-page cover letter outlining their interests and career goals, two academic references, and representative publications to:


Kara Polson

EPID@Work Research Institute

Lakehead University,

955 Oliver Road,

Thunder Bay ON

P7B 5E1, Canada

Email: epid.hbsc@lakeheadu.ca

The competition will remain open until the position is filled. Applications will be reviewed starting on August 24, 2020.

Lakehead University is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment and welcomes applications from all qualified individuals including women, members of racialized groups/visible minorities, Indigenous persons and persons with disabilities, and persons of any sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.  Lakehead University is committed to an environment of open access to employment opportunities. Accommodations are available for all applicants with disabilities throughout the recruitment process. If you require accommodations for interviews or other meetings, please contact Human Resources at (807) 343-8334. We appreciate your interest; however, we will only notify those selected for an interview.

Publication Alert: Opening the Workplace After COVID-19: What Lessons can be Learned from Return-to-Work Research?

Published: 19 June 2020; Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation 

William S. Shaw, Chris J. Main, Patricia A. Findley, Alex Collie, Vicki L. Kristman & Douglas P. Gross

The on-going COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented effect on workplaces across the globe. The extent of viral infection, illness, and fatalities has transformed or closed many workplaces and resulted in large numbers of temporarily furloughed or unemployed workers. Those most susceptible to the virus and its effects are the elderly or medically vulnerable, but physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and isolation have produced drastic social, economic and health consequences for workers of all ages, with a disproportionate impact on those more disadvantaged. Some businesses and workplaces are beginning to reopen, albeit under extraordinary rules pertaining to physical distancing, personal protective equipment, and physical guards. The efficacy of such measures in the workplace are unknown, and we have much to learn about how workers adapt and function under these circumstances.

Some of the challenges of inviting workers back to the workplace mirror some of the issues that we recognize as commonplace in the return-to-work and occupational rehabilitation literature—the idiosyncratic nature of health and work, individual disease vulnerability, susceptibility to environmental hazards, the need for job flexibility and modification, and differences in workstyle, social capital, and organizational support. A recurring theme in the work disability literature is the heterogeneity of return-to-work outcomes for workers with a wide range of injuries, illnesses, and medical procedures (e.g., cardiac arrest, major trauma) [1, 2]. Within medical conditions, this variation has been attributed to demographic and health variables (age, fitness, health status, anthropometry), to workplace factors (e.g., supervisor support, ability to accommodate, physical demands), to psychological factors (e.g., perceived impairment, job stress, coping, fears of re-injury or worsening health conditions, catastrophizing), and to social factors (e.g., family caregiving roles, social support, economic factors) [3,4,5,6,7]. The COVID-19 workplace opening process may also need to address this complexity of factors.

Worker Factors

Just as injury and illness have variable effects on workability, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to impact workers differently because of issues like threat of viral infection, health vulnerability, organizational perceptions, income levels, and seniority/job tenure. Perhaps we can learn from studies in occupational rehabilitation [3,4,5,6,7] that have demonstrated how job stress, depressed feelings, job dissatisfaction, fears of injury or retaliation, catastrophizing, perceived incivility, and other factors can complicate rehabilitation and recovery.

The COVID-19 crisis has created a new workplace hazard that will be a significant source of stress and anxiety for many workers. This is especially true where infection risks are greatest, where workers are deemed essential to continue working, and for workers who are particularly vulnerable. Opening of workplaces during COVID-19 is occurring against a backdrop of heightened levels of psychological distress in the community that crosses all sociodemographic divides. Distress may result from increased personal financial pressure, social isolation, fear of infection, or the threat of job loss. Returning to an uncertain working environment presents an additional stressor that will further affect the mental health of workers [8].

Workers who experience COVID-19 symptoms and return to work after a period of illness and quarantine may experience fatigue, anxiety, and/or reduced work tolerance [9]. They may face difficulties in access/travel to work, restrictions in social contact with others, and new training, equipment, or responsibilities. The social stigma associated with a COVID-19 diagnosis may alter social relationships and access to or interactions with colleagues. It is unclear how conjoint work that necessitates close physical proximity will be managed, though it seems that mandatory physical distancing will be a condition for workplace opening. The social support of longstanding colleagues may fracture, and it may be difficult or impossible to work side-by-side with peers for any prolonged duration. The workplace has never had such seismic shifts at a global level.

One concern is that workers who have been away from physically demanding work for several months may experience deconditioning that poses risks upon returning to work. In occupational rehabilitation after injury, workers build tolerance for work gradually before resuming heavy physical work demands. The same opportunity may not be possible after a COVID-related layoff, but workers should re-engage with work tasks gradually to allow re-adaptation to heavy loading. In addition, domestic pressures arising from the health or risk of ill-health in families can have a significant effect on workers’ wellbeing, sleep, and mental health, with possible increases in presenteeism and work absence. The most prevalent of all will be fears of novel coronavirus itself, ironically a consequence of the strong public messaging that underpinned the initial lockdown. This new fear of unseen infection hazards in the workplace, rather than hazards of work itself, will be difficult to manage using traditional safety training and disability management strategies.

Workplace Factors

The COVID-19 crisis has led to an unprecedented need for employers to provide flexibility and leeway so their workers can continue to work productively from home, adopt different work habits, or work in a new or rapidly changing environment. From the occupational rehabilitation literature, we know that workers are highly variable in their need for job modification after injuries. Similarly, workers will have substantially different needs for job modification related to COVID-19. Supervisors will be an important resource for information and individual worker problem solving. Authors have commented on the critical role of immediate supervisors for effective implementation of proactive employer policies and practices in workplace safety and return-to-work [10]. With COVID-19, workers will rely heavily on immediate supervisors to interpret the policies and practices of owners and corporations. In providing support and guidance, managers will be asked to address a wide range of effects not only of the virus, but of the impact of physical distancing as well. This is particularly true if they are required to monitor and enforce new working arrangements. Furthermore, the extent to which workers will have discretion to weigh virus-related risks in relation to the need to be present at work is not yet clear.

Workplace flexibility and modification will be needed to support safe workplace openings, and this will vary substantially by industry and occupation. Settings that involve working in close physical proximity to others will have elevated risk of infection (e.g., meatpacking), while in others, infection control measures are more feasible. The occupational rehabilitation literature shows that effective return to work programs are context specific [11], and it seems apparent that a similarly targeted approach will be required as workplaces re-open during the pandemic. Some workers may choose to work from home indefinitely or take extended leave from work. In some workplaces that pose untenable risks, it is possible that workers will seek other job roles or file for disability or unemployment payments.

Societal Factors

The COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-term societal impact both in and out of work. Changes in social interaction will require that many standard practices within employing organizations be re-evaluated and revised. A substantial change in workplace interactions and work habits will require accommodation and leeway in workers with the most significant concerns, those with the greatest illness risks, and those who are working in the highest risk work environments. Just as with return-to-work after injury, employers may struggle to maintain uniform and fair practices while also being responsive to the concerns of individual workers, and it will be important to involve multiple stakeholders in this process [12].

The existing occupational rehabilitation literature has shown how return-to-work and other worker health and safety outcomes are stratified by income, language, immigration status, social rank, and other measures of socioeconomic advantage or disadvantage. Data from the COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt reflect that disadvantaged workers are overrepresented among essential workers and those deemed necessary for businesses to remain open or reopen.

Disadvantaged workers are at greatest risk of experiencing negative outcomes from COVID-19. Low-income workers will be more likely to have jobs deemed as essential with no options for working from home, and workplace exposures may be more difficult to control. Working from home may be impossible or impractical, and the threat of layoffs may lead low-income workers to accept workplace exposure hazards despite fears of infection and job loss. Other disadvantages related to age, race and ethnicity, language, education, or social status may result in fewer advantages for alternative work and job flexibility. Employer policies related to opening with COVID-19 will need to pay particular attention to consequences to workers who have socioeconomic disadvantages.


The COVID-19 pandemic will challenge many of our existing conventional practices in occupational health and safety and work disability prevention, and the reopening process will see tremendous variation across workplaces and between workers in the same occupations. There is a complexity of multi-level factors that will influence whether individual workers will accept workplace safety risks, trust organizational measures and co-workers, modify work habits, return to shared working spaces, and resume productivity. Based on the lessons learned from the occupational rehabilitation literature, we recommend the following:

Employer plans and strategies for reopening the workplace should identify and anticipate individual worker circumstances that will affect worker COVID-19 attitudes and behavior. Policies that demand uniform compliance may be unsustainable or unrealistic.

Occupational health and safety guidelines for reopening the workplace should be industry- or occupation-specific and consider the unique physical, psychological, and social workplace factors of different work settings.

Workplace openings should prioritize the needs of disadvantaged workers, as they are most likely to have higher environmental exposures and inflexible job tasks, and they will be most threatened by job loss and unemployment.

Successful opening of workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic will require significant changes to organizational health and safety policies and practices to show flexibility to individual worker needs, to be fair to workers with less socioeconomic advantage, and to understand the backdrop of stress and social disruption being experienced at all levels of society.



Lilja G, Nielsen N, Bro-Jeppesen J, et al. Return to work and participation in society after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2018;11(1):e003566.

Collie A, Simpson PM, Cameron PA, et al. Patterns and predictors of return to work after major trauma: a prospective population-based Registry Study. Ann Surg. 2019;269(5):972–978.

Cancelliere C, Donovan J, Stochkendahl MJ, et al. Factors affecting return to work after injury or illness: Best evidence synthesis of systematic reviews. Chiropr Man Therap. 2016;24(1):24–32.

de Vries H, Fishta A, Weikert B, Rodriguez Sanchez A, Wegewitz U. Determinants of sickness absence and return to work among employees with common mental disorders: a scoping review. J Occup Rehabil. 2018;28(3):393–417.

Gragnano A, Negrini A, Miglioretti M, Corbière M. Common psychosocial factors predicting return to work after common mental disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers: a review of reviews supporting a cross-disease approach. J Occup Rehabil. 2018;28(2):215–231.

Etuknwa A, Daniels K, Eib C. Sustainable return to work: a systematic review focusing on personal and social factors. J Occup Rehabil. 2019;29(4):679–700.

Kristman VL, Shaw WS, Boot CRL, Delclos GL, Sullivan MJ, Ehrhart MG, et al. Researching complex and multi-level workplace factors affecting disability and prolonged sickness absence. J Occup Rehabil. 2016;26(4):399–416.

Løvvik C, Øverland S, Hysing M, Broadbent E, Reme SE. Association between illness perceptions and return-to-work expectations in workers with common mental health symptoms. J Occup Rehabil. 2014;24(1):160–170.

Larochelle MR. Is it safe for me to go to work? risk stratification for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. NEJM Perspective. www.nejm.org (2020). Accessed 27 May 2020.

Kristman VL, Shaw WS, Reguly P, Williams-Whitt K, Soklaridis S, Loisel P. Supervisor and organizational factors associated with supervisor support of job accommodations for low back injured workers. J Occup Rehabil. 2017;27(1):115–127.

Loisel P, Buchbinder R, Hazard R, et al. Prevention of work disability due to musculoskeletal disorders: the challenge of implementing evidence. J Occup Rehabil. 2005;15(4):507–524.

Young AE, Wasiak R, Roessler RT, McPherson KM, Anema JR, van Poppel MN. Return-to-work outcomes following work disability: stakeholder motivations, interests and concerns. J Occup Rehabil. 2005;15(4):543–556.