Return to Work

Return-to-Work Planning

Two men shaking hands

How to prepare for an employee expected to return to work full-time after a disability leave

When a release to full duty has been obtained, the disability claim manager will contact you (the manager) to advise you that the employee will return to work on an identified date. This date may change if the circumstances of the disability change; for example, if the employee suffers a relapse or complications. 
 
When the employee returns to work, you should:

  • Meet with him or her at the beginning of the first work-day to welcome the employee back and help the employee reorient back to the workplace. 
  • Notify the appropriate parties in the Human Resources and payroll departments to return the employee to work in the payroll system.
  • Update the time-keeping system. If the employee does not return to work on that expected date, the manager must immediately contact the claim manager at 800-362-4462.
     

Step 1: Before the employee returns to work

Think creatively about the alternatives for transitional or modified duty. Ask yourself:

  • Can the employee's workday or workweek be shortened or otherwise modified? 
  • Can the employee do his or her job, or a portion of the job, from home? 
  • Is there an alternative job that the employee can do? 
  • Are ergonomic accommodations necessary to adjust the employee's workspace? 
  • Can the employee's workspace be moved to a different location that would better accommodate the disabling condition? 
  • What jobs or tasks never get done at your workplace? Can you create a temporary transitional work assignment for this employee to accomplish these tasks? 

New York Life Group Benefit Solutions will advise you, as the employee's manager, about any conditional release to work and assist you in accommodating the return.

Note: To protect the employee's privacy, the employee's medical information will not be shared with you.
 

Step 2: When the employee returns to work with restrictions

As the manager, your responsibilities upon the employee's initial return include:

  • Meeting with the employee at the beginning of his/her first day back at work.
  • Welcoming the employee back and helping him/her reorient to the workplace.
  • Notifying the payroll department to return the employee to active status in the payroll system.
  • Updating the employee's status in the time-keeping system. 

Throughout the return-to-work process, NYL GBS will remain involved with the employee’s medical provider, the employee, and you, to help monitor the employee's progress toward an unrestricted return to full duty.
 

When an employee can return to work only on a reduced-time schedule, or can perform only some of the duties assigned to his or her position

NYL GBS will work closely with the employee's medical provider, the employee, and you, the manager, to develop a return-to-work plan based on the employee's capabilities and the opportunities available for a smooth transition to a full or modified work plan. 

Each employee's return-to-work plan should be consistent with his or her medical treatment plan. For example, it should accommodate the individual's rehabilitation or therapy schedule, if any. 
 
In this situation, known as return-to-work with restrictions, try to maintain as much normalcy in the employee's tasks and work environment as possible, contingent on the employee's functional capabilities. 
It is recommended that you use a hierarchical approach that starts with the least amount of change for the employee. For example: 

  • Option 1:  Employee remains in his or her usual position on a reduced-task and/or time schedule.
  • Option 2:  Assign tasks that most closely resemble the employee's normal job duties.
  • Option 3:  Assign tasks that will return productivity to the area or operation that has lost productivity due to the employee's injury.
  • Option 4:  Assign other tasks in a different department or location that are consistent with the employee's capabilities and functional restrictions.

A return-to-work plan with restrictions should comply with the following criteria. It should:

  • Be progressive and incremental in responsibility.
  • Be based on the employee's functional capacity.
  • Have a beginning and end date not to exceed a defined number of weeks, with an expected return to full capacity with no restrictions at the end of the transition period. 

When an employee returns with permanent restrictions, this may become an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issue, and reasonable job accommodations should be addressed with your Human Resources Department. 

Coworkers meeting

EAP assistance in the return to work

If your company offers employee assistance counseling, an EAP counselor can be a resource to the manager and staff in dealing with disability absences and sensitive issues, such as:

  • Confidentiality and privacy concerns.
  • Workplace modifications and accommodations for the returning employee.
  • Employee dissatisfaction with the modified work.
  • Inconsistency in job performance after the employee returns to work.
  • The manager becoming inappropriately involved in employee's well-being.

Click here to learn more.

What to do when an employee returns to work but can’t perform all the normal job duties

As a manager, you can work to "modify" one or more features of the employee's regular job; for example, reducing the number 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.

Modified work may include changes to the physical or cognitive demands of the employee's regular job, offering accommodations to the employee returning to work from a disability, and keeping an employee in his or her regular job during recuperation from an illness or injury.

Work modifications are intended to be temporary; a return to full capacity at the end of the transition period is expected. The job demands will incrementally change over time as the employee improves in his or her "hardiness" during the course of recovery.

The characteristics that define a modified-work position are:

  • It is time-limited; the maximum duration of modified work should be a defined number of weeks.
  • It increases the employee's ability over time to return to his or her fullest functional capacity.
  • It is accommodating to an individual's disabling condition and work abilities.

Types of modified work include:

  • Performing all tasks involved in the employee's regular job on a longer-than-usual time schedule.
  • Performing some tasks involved in the employee's regular job on a regular time schedule.
  • Performing some tasks involved in the employee's regular job on a reduced time schedule.
  • A reduction in the number of hours worked in a day.
  • A shortened workweek.
     

Unscheduled absences while on modified work

If an employee who is on modified work calls out from work, you must ask the employee if the reason for the absence is related to the disability, without asking for specifics about the employee's medical condition.

If the incidental absence is not related to the disability, you as the manager will decide how that time is accounted for (i.e., a sick day, a vacation day, a personal day, etc.) in accordance with company policy. Such absences should have no effect on the modified work, which will continue upon the employee's return from the absence.

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 be treated as a new claim.
 

Scheduled absences while on modified work

Some scheduled absences may be approved while the employee is on modified work. You should contact your Human Resources representative to discuss the specifics in each individual case.
 

No-show while on modified work

An employee may be released to return to work but not report to work or may call out from work during modified work.

In this situation, you should follow these steps:

  1. Contact the claim manager and advise him or her that the employee has not returned to work. 
  2. Verify that the return-to-work date is correct.
  3. Contact Human Resources about leave-status changes. 
  4. The employee may be eligible for FMLA or other leave.
  5. Contact the payroll department to change the employee's status based on the decision made by the manager and HR. 
Women on conference call in cafe

What to do if an employee can return to work, but not in the same occupation?

If an employee can return to work but not in the same occupation, the employee may be able to perform transitional work instead. Transitional work is a temporary assignment to different work than the employee's regular job. It offers accommodations to the employee returning to work from a disability and keeps an employee productive during his/her recuperation from an illness or injury.

Transitional work assignments are generally composed of tasks that are not otherwise part of anyone's regular job. These may be tasks that need to be performed but are unassigned or tasks assigned to a position that has been eliminated.

Once the job tasks are identified, transitional work assignments can be developed by combining various job tasks to make up part-time or full-time work. The essential functions and associated demands of the tasks can be matched to the physical and cognitive capabilities of the individual returning to work.

The job tasks themselves may cross departments, and the transitional work assignment is intended to be temporary. It will change over time, as the employee improves in his or her "hardiness" during the course of recovery.  
The characteristics that define transitional work are:

  • It is a temporary position.
  • It is time-limited—the maximum duration of a transitional position should be a defined number of weeks.
  • It increases the employee's ability over time to return to his or her fullest functional capacity.
  • It is accommodating to an individual's disabling condition and work abilities.

Transitional work may include the following options:

  • Performing some tasks in the employee's regular job and some different tasks on a regular or reduced time schedule.
  • Performing different tasks that are temporarily assigned at the employee's worksite.
  • Performing different tasks that are temporarily assigned at another company site.
  • Performing different tasks that are temporarily assigned at a non-company site.
     

Unscheduled absences while on transitional work

If an employee who is on transitional work calls out from work, you must ask the employee if the reason for the absence is related to the disability, without asking for specifics about the employee's medical condition.

If the incidental absence is not related to the disability, you as the manager will decide how that time is accounted for (i.e., a sick day, a vacation day, a personal day, etc.) in accordance with company policy. Such absences should have no effect on the transitional work, which will continue upon the employee's return from the absence.

If the absence is related to the disability, you should call the claim manager to determine if the transitional work will continue or if this will be treated as a new claim.
 

Scheduled absences while on transitional work

Some scheduled absences may be approved while the employee is on transitional work. You should contact your Human Resources representative to discuss the specifics in each individual case.
 

No-show while on transitional work

An employee may be released to return to work but not report to work or may call out from work during a transitional work arrangement. 

In this situation, you should follow these steps:

  1. Contact the claim manager and advise him or her that the employee has not returned to work.
  2. Verify that the return-to-work date is correct. 
  3. Contact Human Resources about leave-status changes. 
  4. The employee may be eligible for FMLA or other leave.
  5. Contact the payroll department to change the employee's status based on the decision made by the manager and HR. 

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

New York Life Group Benefit Solutions products and services are provided by Life Insurance Company of North America and New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY, subsidiaries of New York Life Insurance Company.