Return-to-work policies are designed to allow employees who took leave from work due to injury or illness to adjust back into the workplace while they are recovering. Establishing a return-to-work policy is beneficial to employees, who can reduce the time they would take off work to recover and may benefit from returning to their work routine faster.
In addition, employers can retain a valuable employee; save time from searching for and training a new employee; and improve productivity and output among employees who are working while recovering with often low-effort, low-cost accommodations.
Companies should consider implementing an explicit return-to-work process for employees. When an employee experiences an injury or physical or behavioral health condition that prevents them from fulfilling their duties, then the employee is already aware of available resources and feels more comfortable to take a leave of absence.
The return-to-work policy should have a clear outline of expectations and responsibilities for both the employer and employee. It should also have a process for determining the necessary accommodations someone will need to return to work based on the clear requirements and essential functions of the job to which they are returning.
When an employee is ready to return to work, the employer should not make assumptions about what they will be able to do or not do. It is okay to ask the employee what difficulties they have, which parts of their job responsibilities are affected, and what accommodations are necessary for them to return to their job.
Examples of accommodations that can be used for an employee to return to work are flexible work hours, rest areas, flexible workspaces, and/or telecommuting. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), over 50 percent of accommodations do not cost employers anything, and when they do, the average one-time cost is $600, making them extremely cost-effective when compared to the cost of employing and training someone new.