Return-to-work programs are designed specifically to assist employees on disability (or in this case, returning from a layoff due to a pandemic) in making a gradual return to work. Instead of assigning an employee a job with established tasks, which is done commonly when an employee is transitioning back to their routine job after a temporary medical restriction, return-to-work programs should include a variety of temporary and transitional work assignments that are flexible and take the needs of the employee's temporary medical restriction into account.

Keep the following points in mind as you design your return-to-work program assignments:

  1. Your policy book should include a section on transitional work assignments. Make sure that it is clear and concise in explaining that transitional work assignments are mandatory and what the consequences will be for refusing to take an appropriate transitional assignment.
  2. Ask your supervisors to compose a list of tasks that could be assigned and performed by a transitioning employee, especially looking at tasks that have been delayed due to a lack of time or manpower. Jobs that are currently being outsourced can also make ideal assignments.
  3. Make sure that assignments are congruent with the employee's Work Status Report. This report is completed by the employee's physician and will help you determine what transitional assignments the worker will physically be able to complete.
  4. Contact the employee's physician to let him/her know you have a return-to-work program. This initial contact is also the perfect time to ask the physician for recommendations on what types of transitional assignments would be appropriate for the employee's specific temporary medical restriction.
  5. Supervisors should also be aware of all medical restrictions a transitioning employee has and understand that any assigned tasks must be within those restrictions.
  6. Work with the employee, their treating physician, and their supervisor to establish the transitional assignment's start and end dates prior to the employee returning to work.
  7. The specifics of temporary assignments should be documented, including the physical requirements for the assignment, the location from which the employee will be completing the assignment, and the schedule for the assignment. The document should also include a statement that any necessary training will be employer-provided. After you get the employee to sign and date the completed document, you can provide them with a copy and place the original in your personnel files.
  8. The employee's regular wage or salary shouldn't be reduced during the temporary assignment, as this could impact indemnity payments and leave the employee with a negative attitude.
  9. Avoid providing work just to keep the worker busy, as this could leave the employee feeling degraded.
  10. Avoid modifying regular company rules on tardiness; time-off requests, even for medical appointments; attendance; and so forth.
  11. Do monitor your employee's progress and make routine follow-ups with their physician.
  12. Transitional assignments should never continue indefinitely for any employee, especially once an employee has been released back to regular duty by their physician. Look at non-medical issues that may be behind any delay in an employee being able to return to their permanent job within the time their doctor recommended.

When a return-to-work program is properly designed, it can help you retain your valued employees and help them continue to earn a living. Even though an employee with a medical restriction probably won't be functioning at their full potential, they can still make valuable contributions to your business.

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