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Return-to-Work Toolkit: Background for Employers

When employees experience illness or injury, it often impacts their ability to perform their jobs. In cases where an employee is out of work due to illness or injury, it's in everyone's best interest to return him or her to work in some capacity as soon as they are able.

Return-to-work strategies and programs have traditionally been used to reduce workers' compensation costs; however, they can do much more – they can improve productivity and morale across an organization, they can save organizations time and money and they can protect agencies from loss of talent. Examples of effective return-to-work strategies include offering the opportunity to work part time, telecommuting, modifying work duties, modifying schedules, and implementing reasonable accommodations to provide employees with the tools and resources they need to carry out their responsibilities.

Efforts such as these can help employees return to work sooner, even while still recovering. This allows the employee to protect their earning power while at the same time boosting the organization's productivity. Furthermore, in many instances, the ability to return to work after injury or illness plays an important role in the employee's actual recovery process.

What are some of the conditions that cause disability and long-term absence from work? They include illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but also mental health conditions, back pain, arthritis and injuries. Every worker has a probability of acquiring a disability or illness that hinders their ability to work. Of course, not all of these are work-related injuries and thus not all are covered by workers' compensation.

Fortunately, accommodations for employees returning to work are highly cost effective, with most incurring little or no expense at all. Data collected by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) over the years reveal that more than half of accommodations cost employers nothing. Of those that do cost, the typical one-time expenditure is $600 — an expenditure that most employers report recouping many times over in the form of increased productivity and the savings associated with not having to recruit, hire and train a new employee. In fact, 74 percent of employers who implemented accommodations rated them as either "very effective" or "extremely effective."


  • Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work: Supporting Employees Who Experience Unexpected Illness or Disability — This fact sheet, co-authored by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division and Office of Disability Employment Policy, informs employers about resources available to help employees who have sustained disabilities or chronic illness to return to work or stay at work. It also explains provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that are applicable in these situations, and how intermittent leave may assist employees to remain on the job.
  • Accommodation and Compliance Series: Return-to-Work — This information from the Job Accommodation Network is designed to help employers determine effective accommodations and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).