For an employee on a disability leave, returning to work is a huge step forward in their recovery. Not only does it signal that his or her health is improving, but it also signals a return to “normal” life. However, some employees may want to return to work, but might not be able to take on the full scope of their job responsibilities due to medical limitations.
I often encourage employers to think outside the box in these instances, and see how accommodations can be put into place that help an employee transition back into the workplace. Creating a transitional work agreement can do just that. Transitional work agreements are flexible and outline how an employee can resume working, ranging anywhere from outlining light-duty or part-time work, and can help aid in the employee’s recovery.
These agreements not only help the employee, but often can benefit a department or organization as a whole. Consider a department with only five employees. If one employee is out on medical leave, the team is down 20 percent of its workforce. Allowing members of your team to return to work while not quite 100 percent, even if only for a small amount of time, can help reduce the work strain of other team members while increasing overall department productivity.
Solutions for everyone
Transitional work agreements can and should be tailored to each individual employee’s situation, and signed off by the employee, employer and the employee’s medical team. These agreements come in many forms, including:
• Temporary job duties
• Reduced hours
• Modified schedules
For employers that may not know where to begin when considering a transitional work agreement, consultants from your disability carrier can help analyze the situation and determine the best approach for an employee. The consultant will work with the employee’s medical team to determine any restrictions the employee may have because of his or her condition, as well as analyze the work environment to create the best course of action.
Of course there is a lot of planning, evaluation and collaboration that shouldn’t be overlooked. Managers, healthcare providers and the employee all need to work together and communicate openly about the plan. Serious health conditions are sometimes unpredictable, so being flexible and allowing modifications can help the employee return successfully. As an employee’s recovery continues, the plan should be reassessed and adjusted based on the employee’s capabilities and medical condition.
Getting employees back on their feet
We recently assisted a nurse who had suffered a head injury, but was looking to return to work. Her medical team was worried about the potential risk involved with her daily duties — which included heavy lifting and patient contact — while her employer felt that she had to be back to 100 percent before returning to her job. While the nurse might not be able to return to her typical day-to-day responsibilities, she could complete more sedentary tasks, such as administrative duties.
A Workplace Possibilities℠ vocational consultant collaborated with the employer to develop a transitional work agreement, where the nurse worked a modified schedule to help complete paperwork and administrative case reviews — some of which she could even do from home. While it took nearly a year, the nurse eventually returned to her regular position, in part because of her modified work situation. The transitional duties also helped aid in her recovery, as she was able to take on more and more work as her pre-injury functionality returned.
No matter what the situation, returning from a long-term disability leave can be difficult for both the employer and employee. By working together to create a transitional work agreement, you can help an employee ease back into both the office and an active role on the team. Making accommodations might require some additional planning, but they are well worth the time and appreciated by your staff.