4: Return to work
Effective return-to-work policies
Effective policies have the following elements in common:
- Monitor sickness rates and processes: Tracking sickness absence is important to identify where there is need for action. Setting clear objectives for processes (e.g. revised work targets, reduction in cost of sickness benefit, etc.) helps identify where the process works and where it needs to be improved.
- Foster a supportive workplace: needs to be discussed in an open and supportive way. Communicating openly with workers encourages early reporting of health problems, which significantly increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. The reasons for workplace adaptations for returning workers need to be communicated to colleagues while respecting confidentiality.
- Prevent reoccurrence: Work with an occupational healthcare provider to understand the underlying causes of recurring illness or injury and take remedial measures.
- Ensure consistent communication: Keep in close contact with the worker and others involved throughout the process. Depending on the situation and company this may include the employer, OSH advisor, health insurer and any providers of medical or vocational (taking into consideration medical confidentiality).
- Consider practical measures to support the returning worker: Discuss the needs of the worker before they come back. As far as is feasible, come up with a plan together on how working conditions can be adapted to accommodate those needs. Workplace changes include adaptations of the workstation, more schedules, e.g. for attending treatment or medical appointments, or reduced work targets.
- Promote sustainability: Once the injured or ill employee has returned to work, make sure you check progress with them regularly. Encourage them to discuss the impact of the workplace changes and any further support they might need. They should also be reminded to keep you updated as their health condition changes so that these can be addressed.