Return to Work Process
The purpose of the Return to Work process is to provide a fair and consistent approach for the rehabilitation of injured and/or ill workers.
The goal is to safely match a worker’s functional abilities with suitable and available tasks and work.
That way, workers can start earning an income again as soon as their injuries/illness allows them to.
That’s where modified work can make a difference. Ultimately, the intent of modified work is to provide transitional tasks until the worker is capable of performing the duties of their regular job.
The Return to Work Process, Accommodation, and Responsibilities
Return to Work includes three types of work accommodation:
- Transitional/temporary accommodation (i.e. a broken arm on vacation, still in recovery/therapy for an injury);
- Permanent accommodation; and/or,
- Indefinite accommodation where needs do not fit into the transitional time frame and may not be permanent in nature (i.e. Waiting months for surgery).
Return to Work programs are the joint responsibility of the employer, the worker, and the Union.
How the accommodation process works:
A valid offer of accommodated work can only be created through collaboration. If an injured worker wants accommodation, they must consult with their doctor and provide accurate functional abilities to their employer and WSIB case manager.
Once the doctor medically clears a worker to return to work, the worker can arrange a meeting to discuss the specifics of the required accommodation for the return to work process. (Part Three of the series, coming in the Spring 2020 issue of Checkout, will cover the specifics of accommodation concepts that help remove barriers to accommodated work.)
So, at this meeting, the employer, worker, and their Union Rep, can discuss the details of the return to work plan. It is a chance to develop the plan more fully including:
- The duration of the plan and accommodation;
- Specific work tasks and duties to be performed;
- Shift and hours of work;
- Who the injured worker will report to, plus;
- Discuss any challenges or barriers that may be present.
Throughout the return to work process, Injured Workers are expected to communicate, co-operate and participate. In addition, they must also follow medical and treatment recommendations, and follow the Return to Work Plan, providing feedback as required. All efforts should be made to accommodate the worker according to the Return to Work plan. In the end, the intention is to return the injured worker as close as possible to their pre-injury job and income.
Here is the hierarchy of returning an injured worker to work:
- Pre-injury job.
- Pre-injury job with modifications.
- Another department, without accommodations.
- Another department, with training or modifications.
- Any other job or alternate tasks.
In cases of WSIB and work-related injuries, further assistance is available for job placement or retraining in the greater labour market.
Injured workers, employers, and Union Representatives all have a role to play in the Return to Work process. There can be challenges and barriers, such as:
- Timely notification for assistance or meetings;
- Plan monitoring and follow up with workplace parties;
- Lack of understanding in the return to work process;
- Language barriers, and;
- Medical changes or flare ups.
Regardless of barriers, the workplace parties must communicate, co-operate, and participate in a respectful, fair, and consistent manner.
The parties must be proactive in identifying work opportunities that follow the injured workers functional abilities while being conscientious of the potential negative and harmful affects on co-workers.
The Return to Work process exists to help mitigate the loss of income that can occur when someone is injured or becomes ill.
Through the process, the employer and worker must remember that restoring the workers’ earnings is very important. The only way Return to Work succeeds is if every party communicates openly and participates in the process.
As always, if you have questions or concerns about a workplace injury/illness, or an accommodation issue, please contact your Union Rep or the Workers Comp Department at the Local Union at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-267-1977.
Read Part One of the series from September (which also appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Checkout magazine). Stayed tuned for Part Three: Accommodation Tips and Concepts and the Stigma of Injuries, Spring 2020!