Return to Work Programs – Safe and Early Return to Work

Employers regardless of size of organization should have a Return to Work (RTW) Program in place to assist disabled employees in their return/graduated return to the workplace.  A RTW Program does not need to be identical for each organization, but the basics of the plan must align with any and all legislative requirements, and should meet the needs of each disabled employee in terms of returning this person to their pre-disability position within the organization.

The RTW Program is a collaborative process involving departments within each employer’s office, unions (where necessary) and staff. Most programs provide a planned approach to returning or remaining at work following an injury or illness, whether occupational or non-occupational.

Employers can develop a personalized RTW plan utilizing a member of the RTW staff in consultation with the staff, union representative, their physician and/or other health service providers, and their department head or manager.

Purpose of the Return to Work Program

The purpose of the RTW Program is to facilitate the safe and earliest possible return to work from absence due to injury, illness or a medical condition for each eligible employee. The program should be designed to meet the requirements of each province’s Human Rights Code.

An employee’s return to work may involve temporary or permanent modifications or adjustments in job duties or workplace arrangements in order to accommodate a disability of an individual staff member.

Privacy and Confidentiality

The RTW Program must respect the individual employee’s dignity, privacy of personal information and confidentiality of personal health information. Data should be collected for the purpose of a safe return to work plan for the employee and his/her department in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection Act. Further, outside agencies, such as any Workers Compensation Board across Canada or a group insurer, should not share their information with the employer’s RTW program.

Who can access the Return to Work Program?

  • All staff who are eligible under all sick day/sick plans within the organization’s internal policies or any staff member the organization deems eligible
  • Staff should self-refer to the program through information provided by the organization on paper or electronically on the organization’s website
  • With the knowledge of the staff, individual departments can certainly refer employees to the RTW Program
  • With the knowledge of the staff, bargaining unit members may also refer employees to the RTW Program 

Roles and Responsibilities of all Stakeholders in the Return to Work Process

Some or all of the following parties may be involved in return to work planning in the following capacity:

  • Organization: Must comply with the Human Rights Code in their province of residence together with all other relevant legislation including the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Compliance includes the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship for employees who meet the definition of disability as provided for in human rights law.
  • Departments: Must identify and provide reasonable, meaningful and productive job adaptations or accommodations that assist the employee during the return to work process. Must ensure that each employee is returning to work following safe work practices, which have been agreed to and outlined by the department.
  • Unions: Must advocate on behalf of employees returning to work and ensure collective agreements are not compromised except as required by human rights legislation.  Unions should also work in harmony with the employer to ensure the return to work process for each employee is coordinated and fully integrated.
  • Return to Work Specialists/Health Promotion Programs: Must act as an expert resource for all parties involved if an employee is experiencing health related issues to remain in the workplace, or the employee is absent and returning to work. Must liaise with the medical community and interpret medical information. Coordinates with all stakeholders involved in the planning, implementation and monitoring of safe and timely returns to work. Encourages appropriate accommodation as medically recommended, monitoring the progress of the disabled employee. Responsible for ensuring privacy and security of medical information.
  • The Employee: Provides objective medical documentation of restrictions and limitations to the Health Promotion Office. Participates in treatment as prescribed by his or her medical team. Communicates regularly with his/her supervisor and all internal RTW Specialists.

Return to Work Process

For accepted referrals to the RTW program, the RTW Process should begin once the employee signs an informed consent/medical release document.  Once the informed consent/medical release document is signed, a Return to Work Specialist is assigned to the absence.

The process should be flexible depending on the individual and the medical case requirements however; the Return to Work Process generally proceeds in the following manner:

  • Program description, interview and consent/medical release document
  • Collection of medical documentation for the purpose of RTW
  • Communication on a need to know basis with stakeholders (specifically with respect to diagnosis/prognosis if in fact this information has been provided)
  • Exploration and delineation of options for accommodation
  • RTW plan implementation
  • Follow up and monitoring

In Summary:

All internal policies relating to return to work for a disabled employee are crucial to the internal working of any organization.

A.R.S. understands the costs involved in managing absence and returning employees to the workplace at the earliest and safest opportunity.  Effective creation of return to work policies and procedures are essential to managing absence in the workplace.

For additional information regarding all functions related to return to work and all other Employer Services offered by A.R.S. please contact:

Mary Crunkleton – Director of Employer Services
mary@arsi.ca
Telephone: 416-510-2468 or Toll Free: 1-877-304-2239

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