By. Sandra Thomsen, BSc. PT, Work Rehab Consultant, EWI Works

In the past, it was believed that an injured worker should not return to work until they are capable of full duties. However, it is now known that early return to work with modified or transitional duties is valuable to the worker and the employer.

Why would a worker want to return to work earlier?

Being on insurance or WCB income does not assure full wages, so returning to work as soon as possible can have financial benefits and reduce financial worries often associated with illness or injury. Early return to work also assures job security and can be helpful to prevent secondary problems that may arise from prolonged time away – such as, deconditioning and loss of skills related to the work and depression symptoms associated with a lack of meaningful daily work. By returning to the job to work within a graduated, progressive, return to work plan it is possible to recondition and strengthen the body, maintain contact with your field of employment, and further develop skills – while not aggravating the previous injury. .

Why would an employer want to offer modified or transitional work?

Early return to work is cost effective by avoiding paying for replacement workers and paying to train new workers. The worker may not be doing all duties, but they are available as a resource to other less experienced workers. It also prevents the employer from losing experienced and skilled workers whom they have already invested training costs. Reduced costs are also associated with no longer paying insurance and wage replacement. It also helps maintain good employee relationships by demonstrating that all employees are valued and the company will work to accommodate them under various challenges and circumstances.

Why would a healthcare provider want to return their patient to work early?

Being away from work has potential side effects, such as deconditioning of the body and possible depression and mental health effects. Returning the employee to work as early as is safe can prevent these possible side effects of being away from the workplace. It is also possible to use work as a therapy tool, as discussed above. The healthcare provider can carefully study the job duties analysis of the job and identify tasks or aspects of tasks that are safe for the worker to perform while recovering. As the worker recovers, more strenuous tasks can be added.

How does one facilitate an early return to work?

It is important to work with all the stakeholders (healthcare providers, insurers, employer, and the employee) to provide opportunities to develop the early return to work plan. This involves working with the healthcare provider to identify the workers’ capabilities and restrictions and to develop a graduated return to work plan that will be adhered to by the employee(s) and employer. This may require modification of the work through organizational, engineering or administrative intervention. Graduated return to work plans typically require a detailed Physical Demands Analysis (PDA) or Job Demands Analysis (JDA) for the employment position. This document can become a key component of hazard identification, a guide for job modification, and a tool for return to work and job coaching.

If you have questions on early return to work or other topics, feel free to contact EWI Works. Specifically, feel free to email our Work Rehabilitation Consultant

Resources:, referenced January 30, 2015