The need for early return-to-work intervention.
Innovations in health care, increased longevity, expanded work years,
and an aging workforce have created an environment today where people
are staying in the workforce longer, increasing opportunities to develop
an injury or illness that contribute to work disability and absenteeism.
There are high costs associated with work disability and absenteeism for
employers, for workers, and for society. Several studies have shown that
the longer someone is absent from their job or the workforce due to an
injury or illness, the harder it is for them to return-to-work (RTW).
However, many injured or ill workers are able to remain in their jobs or
the workforce if they receive timely, effective help.1
Early communication is key to successful RTW, and supervisors play a
critical role. RTW coordinators can facilitate the process by creating
an individualized RTW plan in conjunction with the supervisor, the
worker and their physician.
The following recommendations were adapted from the Working Together
guide, developed by a network of occupational therapists with work
practice experience created by the Institute for Work & Health, in
partnership with the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists and the
College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario.
What can an employer do
to help workers return-to-work (RTW) early and safely and to ease and
maximize reintegration into the work force?
Make early and considerate contact with injured
workers. Employers with an early contact protocol in place have more
successful RTW cases
Direct supervisor makes contact within 1st or
2nd week (actual timing would take into consideration the
Conversations should be
about the worker’s health and well-being and not on blame, cause
of injury, or employer-focused issues or concerns
Communicate with the worker’s health care
provider to discuss their needs. Employers that communicate with
injured workers’ health care providers have more successful RTW
Ideally, communication involves the injured
worker, the employer, and the health care provider
While specific form of communication is
dependent on the worker’s situation, potential communication
Paper-based/telephonic discussion of
worker’s health needs and potential work accommodations and
Workplace visit by
health care provider to gain a better sense of the worker’s
job demands and how best to modify them (or by
rehabilitation, occupational health professionals or RTW
Implement RTW program that includes training
supervisors on topics such as:
Create a RTW-friendly workplace that emphasizes
the organization’s commitment to worker health and safety. Ways to
create a RTW-friendly workplace include:
Investment of company resources to promote
safety and coordinate RTW efforts
Implement and support safety policies and RTW
Develop an effective social support system
Coordinate efforts related to a participatory
What would a RTW Coordinator’s responsibility
include within my organization?
What aspects of my
worker’s job is important to consider in helping them get back to work?
It’s important to consider a worker’s job demands
when helping them RTW. Not only does this highlight a worker’s
strengths and existing skill base, it also helps to identify aspects
of the job that may be challenging or difficult because of a
musculoskeletal injury or pain. Understanding barriers to work can
help better identify whether support is needed and what kinds of
support might help workers RTW. Types of job demands include:
Physical job demands (e.g., lifting and/or
carrying medium to heavy loads, fine motor skills or
coordination, sit/stand/kneel for long durations)
Psychological demands (e.g., attention to
detail, decision making, problem solving)
Interpersonal demands (e.g., supervisory
responsibilities, engaging with clients/customers, motivating
Environmental demands (e.g., moderate to loud
noise, extreme weather conditions, hazardous materials)
Resources for Employers:
– The Employer Assistance Resource Network (EARN) is
a centralized source of employer-focused tools, resources and
publications on disability inclusion.
www.askjan.org - The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading
source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace
accommodations and disability employment issues.
Disability IN: Connecticut
- is a coalition of Connecticut employers
that are working together to increase employment opportunities for
people with disabilities and opportunities for success for disability
Office of Disability Employment Policy, “Return to Work Toolkit for
Employers and Employees”
SOAR - Searchable Online Accommodation Resource
The Hartford: Return-to-Work/Stay-at-Work & ADA Resources
Disability Employment Policy.
S@W/R2W & RETAIN Demonstration Projects