5 Ways to Support an Employee’s Return to Work

By Haley Bass | 01/24/2017

When an employee returns to work after an injury or illness, an employer’s support can help improve the employee’s recovery. Returning to work can often be awkward for employees. They might be embarrassed about the event that caused their injury, or worried about getting hurt or sick again. Getting hounded with questions by worried coworkers can just make things worse.

To make an injured worker’s transition easier, follow these 5 ways to support an employee’s return to work.

1. Know What’s Expected from You

Your role in injury care doesn’t end after paying the workers’ compensation claim. Knowing what’s expected from you in the return-to-work process is one of the best ways to ease an employee’s return to work.

As an employer, your job is to coordinate the return-to-work process with the insurance payor and the physician while keeping the employee informed. While the payor and physician take care of developing an effective treatment plan, they need information from the employer about specific workplace policies and job demands so that they can develop the best plan possible.

For example, if an employee is injured, you’ll need to tell the payor and physician:

  • Whether transitional work is an option
  • What the employee does (and how it can be adapted)
  • What the employee’s work environment is like
  • What support is available for employees returning to work

By doing this work, the employee will know what to expect and can return to work in a safe and timely manner. When the employee returns, you need to ensure that the agreed upon plan is followed through.

2. Be Flexible

Flexibility is essential to provide a safe return to work for employees. Their transitional period won’t last forever, but the workplace should manage some modifications to their job duties or hours before the injured employee is back to full function. And just lightening the load isn’t going to cut it.

As part of your onsite transitional work options, help develop a plan for reduced hours or limited responsibilities. If those options aren’t available, look at off-site work-conditioning programs, or a combination of the two.

Even if a return-to-work plan has already been established, the modified work might seem too difficult for the employee at first. The mental and emotional struggles related to the injury can also hinder recovery. Help find a flexible arrangement that fits well with their lifestyle, but also meets the needs of their role and the business.

Keep in mind, being flexible doesn’t mean being a pushover. Show the injured worker that while you’re willing to support them throughout the recovery process, they still need to make progress toward resuming full work duties.

3. Communicate Often

Fear is a common obstacle to full recovery. The injured employee can fear re-injury, another accident, or unfair treatment from an employer. This is where you step in. Make it clear that you won’t hold the injury over the employee’s head, and that you don’t expect them to be fully recovered when they initially return to work. Communicate how you’ll work with them and their physicians to make the transition safe.

This shouldn’t be a one-time conversation. Regularly keep in touch with the employee to understand how he or she is adjusting, and ask what you can do to make the process easier or more comfortable.

Return-to-work communication should extend to any members of the workforce affected by the employee’s return. Provide training to the employee’s supervisor or manager to help them understand their role in the return-to-work process, explain any policies in your employee handbook, and set the expectation in your workforce that employees will return to work as soon and as safely as possible.

4. Provide Resources and Adjustments

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations (aka necessary changes or adjustments to job duties) to a qualified employee – “qualified” meaning they have a physical impairment that keeps them from performing essential job functions. While employers might fear high costs from these accommodations, they’re typically not expensive. The Job Accommodation Network reports that 70% of accommodations cost less than $500, and 20% cost nothing at all.

Some examples of accommodations: an employee might just need a chair while working, an accessible ramp, or less time in front of a computer. Depending on how long the employee was absent, you might consider an onboarding program to review industry updates, processes, equipment, and safety measures.

5. Stay Positive

Positivity is infectious! Returning to work after an injury is a challenge for all involved, but it’s harder for the injured employee to feel confident upon return if their employer treats them negatively. Let your employee know how glad you are to have them back, how confident you feel about their potential for full recovery, and how supportive you’ll be throughout the transition. Being positive can aid in a smooth transition.

Resources:
https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dvr/pdf_files/employers_top_ten_myths.pdf
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/283021