How to Support Staff Returning to Work After Injury or Illness

  • Workplace Health & Safety
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

While employers must take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of employees in the workplace, it is important to have a policy in place to effectively respond to workplace injuries. It is also useful to have a policy on available modified work opportunities to help injured employees make a safe transition back to work.

If an employee develops an illness or injury while at work, employers must respond promptly and get them the medical care they need. You must also report the injury to the workers’ compensation board in your province within the required reporting time frame.

What is modified work?

Modified work is temporary alteration to regular job duties while a worker recovers from an injury or illness. Depending on the severity of the injury, an employee may be able to take on modified duties from the very next day or once their condition improves.

Again, depending on the nature of their illness or injury, you could make changes to their work environment, job duties, equipment, or work hours.

If you have a modified work policy, you should share it with your employees on their first day of work. If your employees are aware of the work options available to them in case of an injury, it’ll help in their recovery.

Modified roles are transitional with an end date. A permanent change to an employee’s role would be an accommodation.

Under human rights legislation, an employer has a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship. It applies to needs that relate to grounds of discrimination (which include disability). You must grant accommodation requests up to the point of undue hardship if the nature of injury has affected an employee’s ability to carry out their previous job duties.

What are the benefits of recovering at work?

Medical research shows that recovering at work is beneficial to a worker’s mental health and well being. Studies say workers who stay off work for long are less likely to return.

Getting back to the daily work routine helps in recovery. Even those with serious injuries should be able to return to work in some capacity once their condition improves.

This arrangement is beneficial for employers as well:

  • It reduces workload on the rest of the team.
  • Employers can retain a skilled worker and save the cost of hiring and training a replacement.
  • It improves the employer-employee relationship. A workplace where employee wellbeing is valued is a workplace where workers stay for longer.

What things should employers keep in mind?

Communicate on a regular basis

Stay in touch with your employee and keep track of their recovery. Let your employee know how your modified work/accommodation policy can help them get back to work once their condition improves. They should know how to reach out to you if they have queries or concerns.

Discuss modified work options

Ask your employee what tasks they would be able to perform and the kind of work schedule they would be comfortable with. The employee should discuss the plan with their health care provider to ensure that the activities being considered are safe for the injury. The alternate work should be meaningful and match the worker’s original pay as closely as possible.

The goal of your return-to-work plan is to help the worker gradually and safely resume full-time regular work. If at some point it seems that the modified schedule is not working out, be open to reviewing and changing it to suit the circumstances.

Stay on top of paperwork

Make sure to take notes and document your discussions. You will be required to provide a copy of the modified work offer form, and other documents, to the employee and the workers’ compensation board in your province. Check with your province’s workers’ compensation board for details on the procedures to be followed (AlbertaBritish ColumbiaOntario).

Keep medical records confidential

Be informed of the health-related privacy laws in your province. Make sure the medical information of the employee stays confidential. Share the employee’s medical information, within the workplace, on a need-to-know basis. You may want to seek advice from an HR consultant before you draw up your return-to-work plan.

Do you need help creating a return-to-work policy for your workplace?

A modified work policy helps employees recovering from injuries or illnesses make a smooth transition back to work. Not only is accommodating staff with injuries an employer's legal obligation, but it also helps you retain skilled and experienced employees.

If you need help developing a modified work policy, Peninsula's experts are here for you. For help creating HR and health & safety policies or for advice on any other employee management issue, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.

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