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Important elements for any return to work plan

Every employer who deals with employee injuries should have detailed protocols dealing with how employees may return to work after suffering a work-related injury. Whether it is a progressive reinstatement or a light duty plan, a return-to-work program should have three important elements. This post will identify them and highlight their relative importance. 

Return to work programs must be detailed in writing – It is an unfortunate, and common, situation where an employer will call an injured employee and tell them that they are free to return to work the following week. When the employee does not show up for work, disability benefits are terminated (ostensibly because the employee is fit to return), and the employee is fired for not showing up for work. Employee sues later and is likely to obtain relief when he testifies that he was never contacted.

Because of this possibility, all requests to return to work should be in writing.

Medical restrictions should be specifically detailed and followed – To avoid the problem of reinstating an employee to a position that exceeds medical restrictions (even a light duty position), employers should keep a written copy of the job description and the tasks responsible. The job description should be matched with the employee’s medical restrictions. If the job exceeds the work restrictions, another job could be offered, or the employer can pay disability benefits to make up the difference.

Light duty restrictions should make sense – It doesn’t help employers, to reinstate an employee to light duty work that does not fit the job description, or to have the employee just sitting and doing nothing. Light duty work restrictions should fulfill some legitimate purpose within the business.

Source:, “3 Essential elements of any return to work program,” J. Bradley Young, May 27, 2014

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