HR Management & Compliance

Productivity Strategies: Getting Employees Back to Work After an Injury

If you’ve ever had an employee out on workers’ compensation leave due to a workplace injury, you know how important it is to get that employee back to work as soon as possible. Not only does this impact productivity, it can also impact the well-being of the employee—financially, physically, and mentally. Getting back to work can even help the employee recover faster.

In other words, getting an employee back on the job as soon as it is practical is truly a win-win. The employer can get back to full productivity sooner and can reduce associated costs. The employee can start getting his or her full paycheck again and be less likely to suffer from the loneliness and frustration that a prolonged recovery can bring.

Tips for Employers to Get Employees Back to Work After an Injury

  • Have a comprehensive return-to-work policy that is implemented fairly and consistently. Employees should be aware of the policy, and each job should have a written job description that outlines the minimum essential functions and the physical requirements. The return-to-work program needs to be overseen by someone who is well-versed in all employment laws, not just workers’ compensation. Minimally, he or she should have expert-level understanding of the ADA and FMLA as well.
  • Review every situation on a case-by-case basis. There is no one-size-fits-all. Not only is the employee’s ability to return to work specific to the employee’s injury and recovery, it also is specific to the job at hand. While we’ve noted that it’s advantageous for everyone to get an employee back to work as soon as it’s practical, it is also important not to rush it before it’s appropriate. Bringing an employee back before he or she is ready and able can exacerbate the problems he or she is facing and can feel pushy rather than helpful.
  • • Remember that most of the time, employers are not obligated to return the employee to the same position he or she held before the injury. This is different for FMLA leave, which guarantees the same or equivalent position. This distinction is important because it means the employer has more leeway in getting the employee working sooner. It also means the employer may have an obligation to provide additional training if it is needed for the new role. When considering this, remember:
    • Be sure to bring the employee back in a meaningful, productive capacity.
    • Focus on what the employee can do rather than focusing on restrictions.
    • Confirm the employee’s capabilities and restrictions with the medical provider in advance.
    • Work closely with the employee to find a way to get him or her back to work as soon as he or she is able.
  • Look into various accommodation options that may allow an injured employee to complete job tasks while recovering. This might include physical accommodations, but it also might include a change in duties or schedule.
  • Consider offering options and flexibility. For example, there are many scheduling adjustments and other modifications the employer could offer, either temporarily or permanently, depending on the circumstances:
    • Part-time instead of full-time,
    • Modified-duty work,
    • Telecommuting, or
    • Variable or changed work hours.
  • Keep appropriate documentation of every decision and process along the way. When necessary, get employee acknowledgements in writing.
  • Be flexible and fair in accommodating additional medical needs as recovery continues.
  • Pay attention to the burden placed on other employees. For example, if other employees are required to cover some of the workload for an injured individual during recovery, this can cause stress. Don’t forget to manage this side of the equation and be equitable.
  • If the case warrants it, consider working with a third-party intermediary to act as a liaison between the employee, the medical providers, and the employer. This can help to address privacy concerns during the process and can help to ensure that the employee’s needs are being met.
  • Be prepared for the mental/emotional side of injury recovery. This often presents itself in the workplace in the form of frustrations, outbursts, aggression, or other displays. This is not unexpected, but it can be bewildering for an employer who is simply trying to help an injured employee. Train managers and supervisors on what to expect and how to act with empathy during this process while still being fair to everyone involved.
  • Remember that the employee may not want to return as quickly as he or she is medically able and may resent it if he or she feels forced to do so. Focus on the positive aspects and on how returning to productive tasks actually aids in healing. Again, remember, this should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Know when to continue to encourage and when to give space.

No matter which option(s) you choose to implement, be sure to create a situation in which the employee is safe and is not risking further injury or complications while recovering. Obviously, that will be counter-productive for everyone!

*This article does not constitute legal advice. Consult employment counsel with any specific questions, and be sure to check all local and state laws, which may vary significantly.


About Bridget Miller:

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.

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