HR Insights


Bringing an Employee Back to Work After an Injury or Illness

Posted by Paul Banuski on March 9, 2017


It can be one of the most challenging scenarios a human resources department can face: Bringing an employee back to work after an injury or illness. Before getting your employee back on board, it’s important to make you’re following these simple steps.

Determine whether an employee is healthy enough to return to work.

There is no doubt that the primary concern is for the employee’s well-being, but managers and supervisors also have a responsibility to reduce risk. Bringing someone back too quickly may yield potential exposure to the organization. What if the employee reinjures herself? What if she’s not able to perform her job duties safely?

One of the best ways to evaluate whether an employee is healthy enough to return to work is to document the essential job duties and the necessary qualifications or abilities associated with that position. Once documented, ask the employee to provide a physician’s note indicating whether he can perform the duties listed with or without restrictions.

Decide whether a modified duty or an accommodation can be made to facilitate the employee’s return.

If an employee is eligible to return with specific limitations to perform some of his essential job duties, it’s the employer’s job to decide if the employee can be brought back on restricted duty and if reasonable accommodations are necessary.

For example, a cashier at a store who is returning to work has a doctor’s note stating that while they can operate the register, the person shouldn’t be on their feet for more than an hour at a time. In this case the employer would allow the person to come back and sit on a chair or stool. Although some accommodations may not be possible without imposing an undue hardship on the employer, every effort should be made to accommodate the employee’s return to work.

Document, Document, Document!

The importance of documenting all communications with an employee cannot be overstated. One of the challenges of documenting all of these steps is that sometimes these conversations may take place over the phone or even in person. If an employee calls to go over their plan to return to work, it’s important that their human resource professional follows up with an email or a letter confirming what was stated. It can be as easy as the following:

“Dear Bob: It was great to talk to you this afternoon and I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better after your surgery and feel up to coming back to work. As we discussed, before you can come back we’ll need a note from your physician clearing you for the duties listed on the attached job description. Thanks so much and we look forward to seeing you back at the office soon!”

Be Proactive.

While you can’t predict every incident, you can always prepare for one. For every organization, it’s only a matter of time before one or more employees experience an extended sickness or injury.  That’s why it makes sense to create a return-to-work policy and share it with your employees before you it’s needed. It will help set appropriate expectations for everyone involved and provide you with a road map to follow when bringing an employee back on board.

How to be an HR Rockstar by Promoting the Health of Your Employees | CareATC, Inc.
Paul Banuski

About The Author

Paul Banuski

Paul spent the first seven years of his career in the insurance industry before joining HR One, a full service payroll and human resource consulting firm, in 2013. When he isn’t trying to make sense of the latest employment regulations, he’s trying to make sense of his golf game.

Post Topics Health & Safety