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  1. Return to work planning

  2. Sample return to work plan

  3. Duty to accommodate

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Workplace Solutions for Mental Health
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  1. Return to work planning
    1. Return to work planning
    2. Return to work guide for managers
    3. Return to work guide for employees
    4. Hierarchy of return to work priorities
  2. Sample return to work plan
  3. Duty to accommodate

Return to work planning

Any time an employee leaves the workplace as a result of illness or injury, it is very important that their leader keep the lines of communication open in order to help maintain the employee and employer relationship. These regular conversations will help ensure everyone is aware of the important next steps/milestones in the absence, as well as let the employee know there is a safe and welcoming environment to return to when that becomes appropriate.

Once returning to work becomes a reality, it is important to recognize that how an employee handles the transition back to work will often influence whether or not their return to work will be successful.

Guiding principles for returning to work planning

You may want to consider the following when developing an organizational approach to safe and effective returns to the workplace.

  • Focus on ability - not disability
  • Make work meaningful
  • Develop a clear plan
    • Document
    • Set goals and timelines
    • Consider a progressive return (maximum of four to eight weeks is suggested)
  • Communicate clearly defined accountabilities with all stakeholders
  • Proactively manage all relationships involved, and immediately address potential resistance to the success of the plan

According to the Institute for Work and Health, the return to work process has the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding. This becomes an even bigger challenge if there are functional limitations related to communication, interaction or cognition.

  • Consider your return to work coordination process
    • Does it include close communication between worker, supervisor, management, union, healthcare providers and other disability management stakeholders?
    • Is there structured and planned communication throughout the process?
    • Does it include check-ins at distinct times to assess progress in the return to work process and the worker’s needs?
  • Consider your accommodation policy
    • Is there a clear process for ensuring that accommodation is provided in a fair and consistent manner?
    • The Canadian Human Rights Commission suggests that an employer should document the accommodation request, describe the actions taken, and the outcome.
  1. Institute for Work and Health: Workplace-based return-to-work interventions: A systematic review of the quantitative and qualitative literature (2004)
  2. Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare:Best Practices for Return-to-Work/Stay-at-Work Interventions for Workers with Mental Health Conditions (2010)

Return to work guide for managers

Use this guide to learn how you can help support your employees as they return following an absence.

Return to work guide for employees

Share this guide with employees returning to work to help educate them about steps they can take to help make their return successful.

Hierarchy of return to work priorities

  1. Pre-disability role

    The first priority should always be to return an employee to their pre-disability occupation.

    A return to the role an employee knows may produce the most successful results. The expectations are familiar, there is little or no training required, and the manager has a good understanding of how the employee performed in the role prior to their disability. The familiar role and expectations make it easier to fine tune the return to work plan and create the most potential for a successful result.

    When developing the return to work plan it may be discovered that the employee requires modifications to the job and/or the hours worked – either temporarily or permanently - depending on the employee’s prognosis for further improvement.

  2. Alternate role with current employer

    The second priority is to consider returning an employee to another occupation that matches their ability to function within your organization.

    This change may allow the employee to return to work full time with no restrictions more quickly. Modification of hours and/or duties may be required to help improve the employee’s level of function. Again, the length of the modifications will depend on the prognosis for further improvement.

  3. Work trial

    A third priority may be to provide a work trial to gain more information about the employee’s level of function.

    In this scenario, the employer develops a creative combination of duties and responsibilities, each uniquely designed for a particular employee. The type of work done by the employee should still offer real value to the organization. In the absence of value, there is little motivation on the part of the employer to accommodate, the employee may not experience a much needed sense of accomplishment, and they may not feel respected by their colleagues.

    This alternative allows the employee, employer, and even physicians to learn more about realistic, long-term options for return to work.

    • Finding the right fit - developed as part of our What’s on your mind?® series with Dr. Ungar, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and Chief of Psychiatry at North York General Hospital.