Injuries and Illness

Safely Returning Injured Employees to Work: What the Law Says

Deciding when and if an injured worker can return to the job sounds simple, but in reality, it’s a highly regulated activity. Here’s what the ADA, workers’ comp, and other laws have to say. And a special audio conference for those who really want to make sure they do it legally.

An employee injures his back on the job and goes on workers’ compensation. A few weeks later, his boss calls to invite him back. “Sorry,” the worker replies, “I can’t lift those boxes anymore. What else have you got?”

“Nothing at the time,” the boss replies.

“Well, then, I guess I’ll just stay out on workers’ comp,” the worker answers.

“Not on our dime,” the boss declares. “We’ll just write you a severance check. And a good reference for your next job.”

Could this exchange happen? Maybe years ago, but not today.

A Regulated Activity

Return to work is now a regulated activity, with input from several major laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), workers’ compensation law, and various other federal and state laws.

The intended effect of all these measures is the same: to get the employee back on the job, in whatever capacity he or she can hold, as soon as possible.


Learn what you need to know to bring an injured worker back to the job legally at BLR’s special January 24 audio conference on the subject. Can’t attend? Pre-order the CD. Read more.


This aim meets the needs of all involved. The employer gets productive capacity returned, the employee feels better about himself or herself, and the state or private insurer is relieved of paying for additional time off.

Let’s look at what’s required by two relevant laws:

–The ADA. A key principle of the ADA is that if an employee can do the essential parts of a job, he or she is eligible for the job, even if lesser elements can’t be done. The corollary is that employers are obligated to make such reasonable accommodation as are required to do the job. In a return to work situation, this often means a modified set of tasks, or so-called “light-duty” assignments. Experts advise that the work be done in the employee’s usual home department, with as much participation in the general process as possible.

The decision on how to make such accommodation must be through an “interactive process,” involving the employer, employee, and others concerned, such as the employee’s doctor. Failure to engage positively in the process exposes the reluctant party to risk.A company refusing an accommodation can be sued. A worker refusing reasonable light-duty work can be fired.

–Worker’s Compensation. Since workers’ comp is a state-regulated activity, the rules vary. An analysis by attorney Jim Pocius for the International Risk Management Institute grouped state approaches into three groups: Some states provide for a certain number of weeks of costs and training after which the worker is considered rehabilitated. A second group has a policy that simply pays a defined benefit, with little emphasis on rehabilitation. The third group will pay an employee for life if needed, “unless he or she is proved to have an earning power.” Such proof can come, says Pocius, through offering that worker a job. The effect of these variances on your decisions in a return to work situation—and how obligated or not you are to continue efforts to bring a worker back, will depend on your state’s situation.

A Complex Process – and an Audio Conference to Explain It

If anything comes clear about return to work, it’s that it is a complex process. For that reason, BLR is sponsoring a special 90-minute January 24 audio conference titled Return to Work Programs: How to Get Your Injured Employees Back on the Job Quickly—While Avoiding Unnecessary Legal Risks.


Need to know more about safe and legal return-to-work? Attend BLR’s January 24 audio conference. Can’t attend? Pre-order the CD. Satisfaction assured.


Two experts, one an attorney, the other an insurance professional, will discuss all the above factors, as well as common mistakes companies make in either bringing workers back or declining to do so—mistakes that can lead to a huge lawsuit. They’ll talk about the roles of senior management, supervisors, and HR and safety specialists in the interactive process, and the pitfalls to watch out for. And following the conference, they’ll take your e-mailed or phoned-in questions and supply individualized answers. You can train as many people as can fit around a conference phone.

If you want to be sure about your judgments in returning injured workers to the job, we recommend you attend. Or if you can’t, that you pre-order the conference CD. Either way, satisfaction is assured or you get a full refund.

For more information, click on any of the ordering links on this page.

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