Three questions for developing an effective individualized support plan

Over my 30-year career in rehabilitation, I’ve worked with employers in hundreds of industries, each with unique questions and concerns when it comes to accommodating their employees. As a vocational consultant, it’s my responsibility to understand each employer’s specific needs and best recommend an individualized support plan to help bring employees back to work after a disability absence or stay at work through an accommodation.

To identify the best solution for each individual, I work with the employer to research how the employee’s job is performed. Asking the questions listed below ensures we provide the best individualized support plan for employees, regardless of their industry, job title or day-to-day responsibilities.

Understand the basics.
What materials are used on the job? What products are made? What services are provided?

We learn the individual’s day-to-day schedule and area of responsibilities. For example, when I work with a school bus driver, I recognize that safety is a major consideration. If a bus driver has a back injury, he or she may be unable to evacuate the children safely in an emergency. For this reason, he or she may not be able to return to work until the condition has healed.

Learn tools used on the job.
What are the methods, equipment and work aids used?

By knowing which tools and equipment are used on the job, we can best understand how an accommodation might work. For example, if power tools are used extensively and the employee has nerve damage in his or her hands, we might consider models with ergonomic handles or gloves that will absorb the vibration.

Assess workplace way of life.
What kind of culture does this employer foster?

This is a broad, but important, question that encompasses the employer’s attitude toward accommodations and the workplace environment. To learn as much as possible about the workplace culture, we inquire about processes for accommodations, handling absences and return to work. For example, is returning to work part time an option? Or, can the employee work from home for a period of time while recovering? Knowing this information helps us start off on the right foot.

Collaboration and individualization are the key ingredients to developing a successful return-to-work plan for each employee, as well as building a viable return-to-work program for the employer. A partnership between an employer and its disability consultant can help ensure the right questions are asked and help employees return to work appropriately and safely.

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