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5. Develop a return to work plan

Step 5 of 6 in getting ready to return to work:

Once the healthcare team feels that the employee is ready to return to work and specifies limitations and restrictions, the employer and cancer survivor are ready to write a return to work plan. The following questions can guide this process.

Key questions to guide a return to work plan

Time frame: What is the anticipated start date for returning to work?

  • Is the employee returning gradually?
  • What is the projected end date of the return to work plan?
  • What weeks does this plan cover?
  • What days of the week will the employee work?
  • How many hours a day will the employee work?
  • What essential tasks and duties will the employee resume during this return to work plan?
  • What is the proposed schedule for resuming job tasks?

Restrictions and accommodations: Are there any medical restrictions and limitations that the worker and employer need to adhere to?

  • Are the restrictions temporary or permanent?
  • If temporary, how long are the restrictions expected to last?
  • Are any work accommodations needed?
  • If so, what are the accommodations?
  • Why is each accommodation necessary?

Monitoring progress:

  • Who will monitor the employee’s progress during the return to work process?
  • How will that person monitor the employee’s progress?
  • How will changes to the return to work plan be made if needed?

Creating a graduated return to work plan

This section by the Cancer and Work Team

Cancer survivors have described graduated return to work as the most common and best way to ease back into a job. Gradual return allows an employee to slowly increase their stamina, starting with a few days a week or a few hours a day, working up to full time. Sometimes it is impossible to predict the challenges that may come after returning to work. Doing it gradually allows the employee and employer to assess their capacity to complete tasks, as well as challenges that need to be addressed.

There is no set plan for a graduated return to work because the stages depend on the employee’s stamina, the demands of the job, and the workplace. Not all cancer survivors experience the same symptoms, so there is no “one-size-fits-all” plan for a gradual return to work. That’s why some expectations, such as having a survivor being back to full hours within one month may not always be realistic (for example, because fatigue makes recovery longer). For that reason, it is helpful for the employer to inform the employee and their healthcare provider of their expectations when creating a graduated return to work plan, including how long an employer may take to prepare for the returning employee to resume working. The employer or the human resource department can inform the employee and healthcare providers if there are any federal or provincial regulatory bodies with policies on fitness to work, such as the Department of Transportation, Transport Canada Marine Divisions, and provincial departments of motor vehicles. If there are requirements and restrictions for physical and mental conditions that are required for work (e.g., truck driving, commercial marine boat operations, flying aircraft, etc.), healthcare providers may not be aware of them and need to be informed so that they can determine work readiness.

To hear about a cancer survivor’s experience with returning to work, view the following video:

Developing a formal return to work plan – Three guiding principles

Author of this section: Dr. Mary Stergiou-Kita, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

There are 3 guiding principles for developing formal return to work plans:

Guiding principle #1: Return to work plans should be individualized

A return to work plan should vary from one person to another since the needs of every returning employee and every employer are different. Each return to work plan should be based on the employee’s specific abilities and restrictions. There is no cookie-cutter approach as we are all individuals with different needs and therefore plans are based on the individual.

Guiding principle #2: Return to work plans should have feedback from all involved

Return to work plans should have feedback from all parties, consider all their needs, and ensure that each party understands their responsibilities in the return to work process.

[It is important to] put together a plan that makes sense and is going to work from everyone’s perspective…Clear communication as well [is important] between parties so that everyone understands everyone’s perspective and what they are required to do to make the return to work [process] work.

Guiding principle #3: Return to work plans need to be flexible

While the plan must give the return to work process some structure, it must also be flexible enough to respond to ongoing changes in the employee’s needs.

“Career development is about growing through life and work; about learning, experiencing, living, working and changing; about creating and discovering pathways through one’s life and work.” (The Blueprint for Life/Work Designs)

Key elements to include in a formal return to work plan

Experts have identified 8 key elements that should be included in a return to work plan:

  1. Anticipated start and end date
  2. Number of days per week and hours per day that the employee will be expected to work
  3. Essential tasks and duties that an employee will be expected to complete
  4. Anticipated schedule for increasing work hours and resuming work tasks
  5. Medical restrictions or limitations (if any) that must be adhered to, and how long these restrictions or limitations should continue
  6. Work accommodations that will need to be put in place, and why the employee needs them
  7. How will the employee’s progress be monitored, recorded and shared? Who will perform these tasks?
  8. How the return to work and accommodation plans will be changed as needed and who will be responsible for implementing these changes?

Cancer and work return to work planner tool

Other things to consider

When planning a return to work, managers can ask themselves these questions:

  • What are the requirements in the collective agreement, if one exists?
  • What are the needs of people served by the employee, such as patients, customers, clients, passengers?
  • While the employee was off work, was their position filled by someone else?
  • What arrangements need to be made to re-allocate these tasks to the returning employee?
  • What human resources policies are in place to guide return to work?
  • What expectations do people who work in the organization have about to return to work?

Next step:

Monitor the return to work

Back to the list of return to work preparation steps