Return to Work

Women looking out office window

Manager FAQs for Employees Returning to Work

Do I have to accommodate an employee’s return to work with restrictions?

Your company's return-to-work philosophy and human resources policies will guide you in decisions about return to work with restrictions. In general, return to work with restrictions, whether it is part-time, modified work, or a transitional work assignment is very effective in speeding up the employee's transition back to full time and full capacity. Depending on the disabling condition, people usually return to full function more rapidly if they can return to work sooner, even if this means initially returning to work part-time or with functional restrictions.


What’s the difference between a modified and a transitional return to work?

There are two basic types of accommodation for returning an employee to work with restrictions (on a reduced-time schedule):

  1. Modified work—"modifying" one or more features of the employee's regular job; for example, a reduction in hours worked or changing the number or type of tasks performed. Modifying an employee's regular job should be considered before assigning the employee to transitional work.
  2. Transitional work—assignments are temporary in nature and may include tasks that are not part of the employee's regular job. Transitional work assignments should be productive, meaningful work, and tasks must never be demeaning or appear worthless.


What should I do if an employee on modified work calls in to report an absence?

Ask the employee if the reason that he or she is out is related to the covered disability without asking about the employee's medical condition. If the absence is not related to the disability, you, as the manager, decide how that time will be accounted for (i.e., a sick day, a vacation day, a personal day, etc.), and the modified work will continue. If the absence is related to the disability, you should call the claim manager to determine if the modified work will continue or if this will become a new claim. Some scheduled absences may be approved while the employee is on modified work, and you should contact your HR representative to discuss the specifics.


How can my employees use EAP when a coworker returns to work from a disability? 

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help if your other staff resent the increased workload caused by a coworker being out on disability.

Example: The EAP counselor can assist you in finding ways to address your staff's feelings of resentment without revealing the reason for the disabled employee's absence.


What are the common fears about returning to work after a behavioral health disability?

Common fears that your employee may have about returning to work after a behavioral health disability include:

  • People will know I was out for mental health reasons. 
  • My peers have been talking about me behind my back. 
  • My boss doesn't believe I need modified job duties. 
  • People will be angry because they had to do my work while I was gone. 
  • I am afraid I am going to get sick again if I go back to work. 
  • I was given a warning prior to going out on disability, and I don't want to face it. 
  • I may be getting a warning when I return, and I don't want to face it. 
  • If I fail at returning to work this time, I won't ever recover. 
  • My boss doesn't like me, and I don't want to work for him or her anymore. 
  • The people I supervise don't like me and don't want me to come back. 
  • I don't like the people I supervise and dread having to go back to them. 
  • My company is laying people off, and I may no longer have a job to return to. 
  • I won't be the same person I was prior to my disability. 

When you look at this list, it’s easy to see why someone may fear returning to work. However, many of these beliefs may not be accurate and/or supported by the facts. As a manager, you can help allay unrealistic fears.

Most people who are away from work for an extended period of time experience fear about returning to work. If your company offers an employee assistance program, you may want to suggest employee assistance counseling to the employee. An EAP counselor can also be a resource for a manager dealing with an employee who expresses fears about returning to the job.


How can I accommodate an employee returning to work after a behavioral disability?

Accommodations for employees returning to the job after a behavioral health disability should be developed in partnership with the disability claim manager on a case-by-case basis. But there are common examples of accommodations that can be used as a guide. The types of accommodation a person with a behavioral health disability needs may involve minor changes that cost little or nothing.

A person with a behavioral health disability might experience difficulty with some of the following:


Blocking out environmental stimuli

  • Inability to screen out equipment noise, background conversations, sounds in high-traffic areas  
    Potential Solutions
  • Installing partitions around the employee's workspace to reduce distractions 
  • Allowing the employee to use a headset to tune out environmental noise


Maintaining concentration

  • Shortened attention span 
  • Distractibility 
  • Memory impairment  
    Potential Solutions
  • Moving the employee's workstation to a quieter area 
  • Minimizing disruptions or multitasking


Handling pressure

  • Inability to prioritize or multitask 
  • Trouble meeting deadlines or coping with unexpected changes
  • Sensitivity to criticism 
  • Difficulty interacting with customers or the general public  
    Potential Solutions
  • Trading job duties that require interaction with the public for behind-the-scenes work (for example, trading reception duties for typing and filing)

Sustaining stamina

  • Low energy level 
  • Drowsiness from medications  
    Potential Solutions
  • Shorten the employee's workday for a limited period of time 
  • Allow a later start time to the workday 
  • Allow more frequent breaks from work 
  • Give assignments in smaller increments, and eliminate unnecessary tasks 
  • Allow more time to complete tasks

While some job accommodations may be permanent, modified-duty positions should be time-limited. The employee should be expected, over time, to return to his or her fullest functional capacity. This requires periodically reviewing the employee's performance and assessing the accommodation. It helps if your company has a policy for creating job accommodations and a documented process for resolving conflicts that might arise.

This material and page are not intended for use with residents of New Mexico.

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Life Insurance Company of North America is not licensed in New York and does not conduct insurance business in New York.