According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, 4.1 million U.S. employees experience work-related injuries or illnesses each year and 1.12 million of those employees lose work days as a result. With the average employee missing eight days per injury, even a minor injury can create a domino effect throughout your organization.

Considering an injured employee who is off work for more than six months has only a 50 percent chance of returning to full employment, implementing an effective Return to Work Occupational Health Program benefits employers and employees alike.

WTF (What They’re Feeling – Injured/Ill Employee)

Experiencing an injury or illness is a traumatic event, turning the employee’s life upside down.  Everything changes; daily routines, physical/physiological capabilities, family responsibilities, colleague communication, etc.  Their attention and strength have to immediately shift towards recovery and rehabilitation.

Understandably, injured or ill employees may fear:

  • Decreased earning capacity
  • Job loss
  • Retaliation
  • Isolation
How the Employer Can Help

Given the objective of a Return to Work Occupational Health Program is to get injured/ill workers back on the job as quickly as possible, The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) recommend a six-step procedure:

  • Contact the Injured/Ill Worker: Following an injury/illness, contact the employee and inform them of the organization’s return to work program.  Assist with completing any necessary claim forms and assure the worker that he/she will not be forced to return to work before medically able.  Keep in contact with the employee throughout the recovery process.
  • Identify Essential Job Functions: Identify the critical job duties the employee must be able to perform (with or without an accommodation). For example, a cashier must be able to utilize their hands when scanning items and handling payment transactions.  While sweeping the work area throughout his/her shift may speed up the day’s closing procedure, it is not essential for the cashier’s job.  The employer and employee should agree on the essential functions. You may need to eliminate non-essential functions which cannot be performed due to the injury/illness.
  • Determine Capabilities and Restrictions: Obtain an assessment of the worker’s capabilities from the treating physician. Determine what activities (such as lifting or standing) may be restricted.
  • Evaluate Accommodations: Research available accommodations.  Accommodation examples could include:  sit/stand workstations, modified break schedule, working from home, part-time work schedule, etc. Many accommodations can be provided at little or no cost.
  • Select a Reasonable Accommodation: Make the employee a return to work offer.  The worker may be able to return to his/her position with a reasonable accommodation. If not, offer an alternative. This could be an equivalent job, a lower-level position, or temporary work.
  • Implementation and Monitoring: Keep in touch and offer support when he/she returns.  As the employee’s condition improves, accommodations may be adjusted.


Implementing a Return to Work Occupational Health Program can seem like an overwhelming task and for many employers, it is.  Everybody dreads an injury/illness in the workplace, but having an effective working/recovery solution demonstrates your genuine concern for the health and wellbeing of an employee.

Axiom’s experienced team of board certified physicians and nurse case managers understand the unique challenges of employee health management and will guide you through each step of the process.

At Axiom, we believe Caring is the Best Medicine®.


FREE DOWNLOAD: Our guide to Return to Work Programs

Return to Work


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