Many times when an employee takes a leave of absence for an injury or illness, he or she will require a transition period, or an alteration of duties, upon a return to work. Making these adjustments as smooth as possible allows for higher workplace productivity and increased employee satisfaction. Open communication, compliance with regulations and creating a plan in advance benefit both the employer and the employee.
Open communication is absolutely essential to a successful return to work plan and process. It is through this interaction that legal issues and physical limitations can be discussed reasonably and caringly. The dialogue should be opened far enough in advance of the employee’s return to allow for medical documentation to be acquired and job duties to be shuffled or adjusted to meet the needs of the individual. While there is no mandate for these conversations, many states have stringent laws regarding the communication, and gaining a familiarity of these regulations is an imperative step that must be completed prior to making contact with the employee.
During the planning phase, it is important to have several conversations and to address a few main points regarding job duties. Documenting communication is always a good idea, and notes can be referenced later in the process in the event that questions arise. Generally, the following steps are taken prior to a person returning to work:
- Initial Contact: The purpose of the initial contact is to open the dialogue for discussion, clear up any pending legal or other issues and form a sketch of potential limitations. Many employees are concerned about their return to work, and this preliminary conversation is the perfect forum for voicing concerns, exchanging preliminary information and opening the door for further planning. When handled professionally and interactively, this discussion can set the tone for a cooperative process that benefits both parties.
- Job Description Review: A good second step is to review the original job description for the position. Clearly written documents with precisely assigned duties make this stage smooth, but be sure to refer only to the description that was given to the individual prior to the leave of absence. This conversation should include a discussion of both essential and non-essential duties and a self-evaluation by the employee regarding what his or her abilities will be upon return.
- Obtaining Medical Documentation: Medical documentation comes in several forms, and it’s imperative to use the appropriate type for the situation. A fitness-for-duty certification is indicated if the person’s ability to do the essential job functions has been impaired. For instance, if an employee had major surgery but is required to lift 50 pounds as part of the job’s daily tasks, an examination should be performed by a medical professional and documented before the employee returns to his or her normal job. In some cases, it is appropriate for a physician to grant permission or give restrictions without the full certification. In either case, it is essential to respect the privacy of the individual when requesting or handling medical information.
- Making Accommodations: Reasonable accommodations must be made to allow the employee return to his or her original job or to be transferred to an equivalent position either permanently or provisionally. Involving the individual in these decisions as much as possible helps the changes to go smoothly.
Transitioning and Follow Up
When the return day comes and the plan is set into place, be sure to check in to see how the accommodations and adjustments are working out. Flexibility on both sides is helpful, and fine-tuning is often needed to find the right fit. Keep lines of communication open during the entire transition process and be sure to document any adjustments that are made.
When both sides team up to find solutions that work, the transition back into the workplace can be smooth and effective. Planning, communicating and making adjustments along the way will ensure success.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.