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Case Study Company integration management for a cleaner

Company and employee

The cleaner is 44 years old and has worked for 22 years in a laboratory that employs 85 people. At the moment, she works 30 hours a week. A works council is in place.

Work situation

The cleaner's workplace includes cleaning the laboratory rooms, corridors the employees' room and the scullery. There the laboratory glasses are cleaned in the dishwasher. The cleaner has not been sick very often in recent years. Now, however, she has been absent for ten weeks. She is therefore invited to an interview by the BEM representative. She accepts the invitation and the meeting takes place. In addition to a works council member, the human resources manager is also present. At the beginning, the cleaner is told the purpose of the meeting and that it is intended to help her identify whether her sick leave has company-related causes.

High demands on the interviewer
The HR manager begins the interview with words of appreciation and emphasizes that she has always been a reliable employee and has not had any notable sick leave in the past. Now, however, he was concerned about her because she had been absent for ten weeks.
When asked if her illness was work-related, the cleaner blurts out loudly that it's probably safe to say that it was because her direct supervisor was to blame and had made her sick. She is asked to tell what happened.

In the course of the report, it becomes clear that there have been difficulties between the direct supervisor and the cleaner for a long time. They belong to different nationalities and this seems to be the background of arguments again and again. The personnel manager tells her that it does not matter during work whether she or her colleagues are of Serbian or Croatian descent. He emphasizes that both female employees have been with the company for a long time and that the work of both is highly valued. He remembers well that in the past there have been repeated talks with him and both of them to settle disputes. Today, however, the focus is initially only on her and her illnesses and how she can be helped.

This is a clear directive from the personnel manager, and the cleaner recounts the specific course of events that then led to the triggering of her slipped disc:
"The dishwasher in the scullery has a dosing device that is connected to the 25-liter canister that is located under the machine. The canister was empty and I had to get a new canister from the supply room, which is one floor down, and plug it in. My back was hurting and I said to the boss that I couldn't carry the canister. She said that if I didn't do it, it would be a refusal to work. Then I picked up the canister and got a herniated disc. I went straight to the doctor, who still gives me injections today and says that if I have paralysis symptoms, I'll have to have an operation."

The BEM representative asks whether she told her supervisor about her back pain at the time. She didn't, was the answer, but that she can't carry, she told her. Whether it is conceivable for her that the superior would have reacted differently if she had told her about the back pain? The cleaner thought and then says that surely her boss must know from many years of experience that she, the cleaner, always does her work reliably. And if she now says she can't, she should be believed. But while she is still talking, she becomes more thoughtful and admits that the supervisor is probably not the only one to blame for her slipped disc.

After the first blockades (clarification of the question of guilt) have been broken down, the BEM representative can turn his attention to the cleaner's state of health and its improvement. Has she already thought about a medical rehab measure? She could stabilise and get better in peace.

But the cleaner was immediately outraged again and she excitedly interjected that it is well known that she is a single parent. Her daughter is 14 years old and she cannot leave her alone. In addition, she has to pay ten euros a day for the rehab and she doesn't earn that much here.

These were arguments that could not be refuted right away. You really can't leave a fourteen-year-old alone for weeks. As the sole breadwinner, the material argument is also understandable. The interlocutors have understanding for it.

She is presented with an alternative: There are some possibilities in the city for job-related, outpatient rehabilitation. To such a facility, she is told, she can go in the morning and then go home in the afternoon. In the meantime, she can enjoy the same care, counseling and applications as she would during an inpatient rehabilitation measure.

That sounded better to the cleaner, but she immediately asked about the cost. She was further told that she would not have to pay anything extra for this rehab. Also the travel costs are taken over. In addition there is still a lunch free of charge for her.

This Reha kind wanted to accomplish it now and would discuss it with the doctor with your next medical date, threw then however equal again in that it, if it comes back into the work routine, the heavy canisters again to drag must, it itself equal again "kaputt machen".

The company wants to take this into its own hands, because work should not make people ill. There is also a statutory guideline on lifting and carrying, which states that 25 kg must not be moved without technical assistance. The works council wanted to think about this. It is conceivable for him to involve the occupational safety specialist and follow his recommendations. A trolley, for example, or perhaps the company supplying the rinsing agent has smaller containers?

Ergonomic workplace design
The cleaner has something else on his mind: "The laboratory soaks the pipettes and glass containers in a bucket of water. They're on the bottom of the cart, and that's where I have to lift the bucket." I wonder if she has any ideas about how to change that
She did; for example, you can put the materials in boxes that you put on the cart. Then she wouldn't have to bend down.

The cleaner goes on to report that the technician for the dishwasher has repeatedly said during maintenance that soaking is not necessary at all. The machine has a good performance and is made especially for the industry. That's probably why it was purchased. "But that's the way it's always been done, and that's how we've always done it," says the cleaner, "I didn't want to be seen as a know-it-all."

The HR manager then has an idea. He knows that the manufacturing company offers training for employees who operate the dishwashers. When the cleaner is healthy again, all those responsible receive instruction on how to set up the work processes ergonomically and operate them in such a way that the spine does not have to be twisted. The company doctor had already suggested this, but it seems to have been forgotten in the daily work routine.

Finally, the HR manager summarizes what was discussed today. The BEM representative will prepare a record of the results of the meeting. The farewell is confident. The cleaner and everyone involved are very satisfied with the way the meeting went.

The redeployment after the interview
As a result, the cleaner attended an outpatient rehabilitation program, followed by six weeks of reintegration. For all cleaners there was a briefing and instruction in ergonomics at the dishwasher. The sequence of the dishwashing line was changed with the help of the company doctor. Work is now more ergonomic. The 25-liter canisters are being replaced by 5-liter canisters. Longer periods of sick leave have no longer occurred among the cleaning staff.


Small changes can have a big impact. The employee was made aware in the BEM meeting that she is taken seriously, that she is important to the company and that everything is being done to maintain her health. This employee will certainly report positive things about her BEM procedure - within the company and in her social environment!


This is a practical example from the Institute for Personnel Development and Coaching (ipeco) from the book: Das Betriebliche Eingliederungsmanagement - published by W. Bertelsman Verlag (wbv).

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Last Update: 3 Nov 2022