How to Help Your Employee Decide: "Is NOW the Time to Return to Work After Injury?"

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 16, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

If you have an employee who has suffered a serious on-the-job injury, determining when that worker is ready to return to the workplace can be difficult. It is known that the longer an injured employee is away from work, the harder it is to resume their usual duties. However, returning too early can slow rates of healing and recovery or leave your worker vulnerable to re-injury.

Given these facts, it is important to work closely with your employee and the health care and therapy professionals involved in their care in making decisions about appropriate return to work timing – a collaboration that can protect your employee's health and well-being and aid you in workplace injury prevention.

Consider Transitional Duty

An effective return to work plan should be designed to provide injured employees with a transition period to help them return to work as soon as is medically advisable. In many cases, that may not mean waiting until a return to full duties is possible. You may be able to work out a transitional duty plan that provides workers with the opportunity to ease back into the workplace gradually, beginning with lighter duties and working up to full productivity. This type of plan can benefit employees in terms of faster, more effective rehabilitation, significantly reducing injury costs and helping ensure workplace injury prevention standards are maintained throughout the return to work process.

Use Functional Capacity Tests

Functional Capacity Return to Work Screens present a very accurate means of establishing whether or not injured employees are ready to return to work, including whether or not a return to full duty is appropriate. If they are not ready, this evaluation aids in identifying what sort of transitional duty would best suit their recovery needs. In short, they take a lot of the guesswork out of return to work planning and decision making. Not only can these tests protect against recovery setbacks or re-injury due to a premature return, but they can also support your workplace injury prevention efforts.

For these reasons and others, if your employee has not been given a Functional Capacity Return to Work Screen as part of the return to work process, it may be wise to have one done – especially if you or your injured worker have doubts about whether or not they are physically capable of performing workplace duties.

Establishing Exact Functional Expectations

When return to work decisions are being made, it is essential to ensure that the conditions of your workplace are factored in. For instance, while a physician can determine whether a worker’s knee has healed after a knee injury, the doctor has no way of testing whether or not that worker can bend down and also lift the amount of weight that is typical in their warehouse job. A doctor may approve a return to work after a hand injury, but may do so without an awareness of the repetitive tasks that the worker's fingers must be able to sustain in their factory work. An employee may get a green light to return to work after a back injury, but their physical therapist may not have factored in the strain and vibration that sitting in a forklift on a daily basis can put on the spine.

These examples are just a few of the scenarios in which it would be critical that the return-to-work policy incorporates a thorough understanding of the workplace environment. For that reason, using Return-to-Work Functional Screening that is based on a detailed job analysis is important to helping you and your injured worker make a sold decision on return to work timing.

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Topics: Return to Work

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.