How To Help Your Employees Return From Disability Leave
By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Editor
Monster Contributing Editor
What do you do when that injured or ill worker comes back to reclaim her job? She'd hurt herself in your workplace some eight months back. Now she'd like to resume her role as before.
Except maybe she isn't quite up to doing so. Either her injury hasn't healed enough, or she just can't go flat out anymore. Now you're not sure what do to.
Your Obligations Regarding Return-To-Work
You may have no choice but to give that employee their job back. Several provinces and territories in Canada impose a "legal obligation on employers to take all reasonable steps to return injured and ill employees to their pre-injury job as quickly as possible," according to HRInfoDesk.com. This applies under Workers Compensation legislation.
For the above to apply, the illness or injury has to be work-related. Where the employee is unable to return to their pre-injury job, the goal is to return them to alternative work that's consistent with their functional abilities.
Your Duty To Accommodate
You can't just refuse to accommodate the employee's new circumstances. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has policies you'll need to follow.
In particular, their Duty To Accommodate provisions may apply, depending on the size of your company and where you're situated. This refers to "the obligation of an employer to take measures to eliminate disadvantages to employees...that result from a rule, practice or physical barrier that has - or may have - an adverse impact".
When it comes to employment situations, the duty to accommodate means the employer must implement whatever measures necessary to allow its employees to work to the best of their ability - right up to the point of undue hardship on the employer. The Employment Equity Act may apply here too.
Steps You Can Take To Make The Return Easier For All
Beyond the basic laws and acts that apply, it makes sense to be proactive around return-to-work. What follows are some relevant tips.
· Keep in touch with the person while they're away, with their permission
Stay in touch with the affected employee in order to monitor their progress. Reassure them that their job is waiting for them when they're released to return to work.
· Know when they're coming back so you can prepare
It could take you weeks or even months to plan for the return of an employee. Roles may have to be assessed. Workloads need to be reviewed. And job descriptions, possibly schedules too, might have to be modified.
· Determine if any accommodation has to be made
Ask the affected employee what they might need in order to continue doing their job. It's possible they'll require adaptive tools (there may be some government funding available, so check your provincial programs).
· Inform your other workers and get them ready
People in your employ will likely be wondering when the affected worker is coming back. So try and keep your staff updated. Then, at least a few weeks ahead of the affected worker's return, inform your employees. Let them know what to expect and announce changes (if any).
· Welcome the returning person back and break them in slowly
The longer someone has been away on disability leave, the less you should demand of them right away. Give them time to regain their footing. After all, they may have a new schedule, role, equipment and assignments to deal with. Set reasonable deadlines and provide a supportive environment.
Help Make The Return A Success
There are some other simple ways to assist the returning worker. Talk in terms of what they're able to do now, not about what they were capable of in the past. Include the person in meetings and memo's so that they can get up to speed faster.
If you can get your team to pitch in here and there as well, the returning employee will really feel like they're wanted again. This is important for that person's emotional well-being. After all, you want them to begin contributing again as soon as possible, not dwelling on what might have been.