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Inquire about return to work practices and policies at the workplace


Part of determining a patient’s readiness to return to work is understanding what supports are available in their workplace and how the return to work process is handled. Ask your patient to inquire about policies and practices regarding this process. This information may be shared by individuals from the workplace such as a supervisor, union representative, and (if the workplace has them) return to work coordinator, disability manager, human resources professional or occupational health specialist.

After you and your patient have talked about returning to work, with their consent, and if you feel this would be helpful, you could contact their workplace representatives or an insurance-company representative such as a vocational rehabilitation specialist or case manager. Before you contact any employer or insurance company representative, particularly if you are a physician, it is important to be mindful that what you may say about the patient’s capacity may impact your patient’s access to insurance and the availability of a job.  See communicating with insurance providers and law, policy and practice to become more informed.

Try to get answers to the following questions:

  • Does the employer have a return to work planning process or policy?
  • What does the employer expect when employees return to work?
  • How has return to work been implemented in the past?
  • What worked?
  • What did not work?
  • What types of accommodation were provided?
  • Can the employer accommodate gradually increased hours?

With the knowledge on return to work policies and practices at the workplace, collaborate with your patient and their employer to create a return to work plan. At this point, it is important to have assessed your patient’s work abilities and provide guidance regarding restrictions and limitations. This assessment will help the employer and patient identify tasks and concerns to be addressed. If there is a return to work planning committee, the outcome of the meeting should be a clearly outlined, written plan that can be shared with supervisors or whenever there are higher management changes.