The Employment Standard under the AODA states that all public sector organizations, and private or non-profit organizations with fifty or more workers, must develop and document a process for writing return to work plans.
Return to work plans are written documents that provide support for workers who have been absent from work because of a disability and who need disability-related accommodations when they return to work. Workers can have return to work plans if their illness or injury is not covered by the return to work process under a different law, such as the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
Return to Work Plans
Starting the Return to Work Plan
Firstly, workers with disabilities and their managers write return to work plans together and sign the finished plans. Other people involved in developing return to work plans may include:
- A worker’s health care provider[s]
- Volunteer[s] from the workplace, or from the union if there is one
- Health and safety professional[s]
A worker will approach the employer, either through a manager or human resources personnel, and request a leave of absence. If the worker agrees, the employer and worker should stay in contact during the worker’s absence so that the employer can be aware of any changes in:
- When the worker will be returning
- What job tasks the worker may need to perform differently after returning
- What kinds of accommodations the worker may need
When the worker is ready to return, the manager and worker should continue to share information.
The worker has the most knowledge about their own needs and what accommodations will best meet those needs. At other times, the employer may ask the worker whether accommodation would help them perform job tasks.
Next, after the worker and employer have talked about the need for accommodation, they should discuss what the worker’s needs are. During this discussion, the worker and employer do not need to talk about exactly what the worker’s disability is. Instead, they should talk about what functions are part of a worker’s job and what accommodations a worker may need to perform those functions. In some cases, the worker may return to their previous job with few or no accommodations. In other cases, the worker might remain in their previous job but exchange some job tasks with colleagues.
A third option is for the worker to transfer to a different role or department. The option best for each worker will depend on what the job functions are and how the worker’s disability affects these functions. For example, if a worker could no longer lift heavy objects but that worker’s job rarely involved lifting, the worker could continue the job and sometimes use the accommodation of a cart for lifting boxes. If the worker’s job involved sometimes lifting heavy objects up and down stairs, a colleague could perform this function while the worker took on a different small task. If the same worker’s job involved lifting frequently, the worker might need a job that included less lifting.
The employer must keep a worker’s personal and medical information secure and confidential, and disclose it only to people involved in that worker’s accommodation process.
Details in the Return to Work Plan
The worker and employer should then create the return to work plan, which should state:
- The worker’s name and title or department
- The manager or supervisor’s name, and title or department
- When the return to work process should start and end
The plan should also list:
- Any limitations the worker now experiences
- All job functions involving those tasks
- Accommodations that would allow the worker to perform each function, such as:
- Modified schedule or location
- Modified job requirements or tasks exchanged with colleagues
- Any assistive device(s) the worker uses
- Any arrangements that will ensure the worker’s safety
- Start and end dates if any of these arrangements are temporary
If a worker is re-assigned to a new position, the plan should include the title and description of this position, as well as its probable length, if temporary, and any training or safety accommodations the worker will need.
Lastly, the following other information may also be included in the plan:
- The worker’s schedule
- The budget code for any cost of accommodations
The return to work plan should be attached to the worker’s individual accommodation plan.
Reviewing the Plan
Finally, the worker and employer must observe how successful the plan is. They should review the plan and make any needed changes on pre-scheduled dates, as well as if an accommodation is not working correctly.
Why do we need return to work plans?
Return to work plans ensure that workers have the tools and support they need to re-enter their previous jobs and work well after they gain disabilities. In addition, plans help employers retain talented, competent, and creative workers.