Return to work programs help employees who have been out on disability to gradually make their way back into the workplace. If designed properly, such a program should include a variety of both transitional and temporary assignments. These are not jobs with pre-set tasks, which are routinely assigned to employees who are coming back to their usual jobs after temporary restrictions. Rather, they are flexible assignments with tasks that take into account the needs of the employees who have temporary impairments.
Keep in mind that return to work plans should be individualized, rehabilitative in focus, and ideally, the tasks should be as close to pre-injury work as possible. Here are some specific things to do and not do to follow when designing these plans.
- Have supervisors and employees develop a list of assignments that can be performed by transitioning employees. Two good sources for these assignments are tasks that need to be completed but have been put off because they require a large investment of time, and jobs that are currently outsourced.
- Use the Work Status Report provided by the employee’s doctor to determine which of the available transitional assignments the returning employee will physically be able to accomplish.
- Write down the particulars about the temporary assignment. Include the location at which the employee will be working, the schedule, a description of the physical requirements that the position will require, and a statement that the employer will provide any necessary training. Make sure the employee signs the document and receives a copy, and that another copy is placed in the employee’s personnel file.
- Be sure that the supervisor understands the transitioning staff member’s medical restrictions and agrees to keep all of the assigned tasks within those restrictions.
- In coordination with the employee, the supervisor, and the treating physician, establish an expected start and end date for the transitional assignment before the employee returns to work.
- Monitor the staff member’s progress, and follow up with his or her physician.
- Do not reduce the employee’s regular pay for the temporary assignment. Reducing pay can negatively impact the employee’s attitude and could affect indemnity payments.
- Have a clearly written policy that explains that transitional work assignments are mandatory and that there are consequences if an employee refuses such an assignment that is consistent with the physician’s recommendations.
- Never provide “busy work” that will make an employee feel demeaned.
- Don’t modify company rules concerning lateness, attendance, proper notification for time off for medical appointments, etc., for a returning employee.
- Let the treating physician know about your program. Ask the physician for advice about the kinds of transitional assignments that are appropriate for this employee.
- Establish clear standards and policies so that all transitioning employees are treated fairly and consistently.
- Don’t permit the transition to continue indefinitely. If a staff member is unable to return to a permanent job in a time frame consistent with a doctor’s recommendations, examine whether there are reasons other than medical issues behind the delay.
- Never permit an employee to remain in a transitional assignment after being released to full duty by a doctor.
Having a well-designed return to work program helps your company keep valued employees, and enables them to contribute to your company’s success, even when they are functioning at less than 100 percent.
Improve Chances for Successful Return
Statistics show that the longer an injured employee is off the job, the harder it is for that person to return.
Have the immediate supervisor stay in touch with the employee at least once a week during the disability leave, to keep him or her feeling like part of the team.
When it’s time to develop a return-to-work program, the chances of the employee making a successful comeback will be greater if he or she is involved in the planning.