Forcing Injured Employees Back to Work

Posted on August 20, 2018

Businesses and workers’ compensation doctors often badger employees to return to work before they are fully healed from a work injury. Although return to work programs are designed to cut costs and maintain productivity, getting a worker back on the job too soon often prolongs an employee’s healing process and increases the risk of reinjury or additional injury. While a company doctor might clear employees for a return to work, injured employees have a right to a second opinion. Refusing to return to work once released by a doctor, however, can cost an employee workers’ compensation benefits as well as his or her job.

Return to Work Programs

There has been an increase in sending injured employees back to work before they are fully healed since the mid-1980s. Almost 80 percent of companies have return to work programs in place to lower their workers compensation costs. These programs put injured employees back to work with some type restrictions including:

  • Shortened hours
  • Temporary job change
  • Modification to their job requirements, e.g. no heavy lifting

Bad for Employees

While these programs are good for employers, they are not so great for injured employees or the morale of their co-workers. When return to work programs force people back on the job too soon, an injured employee is at risk for reinjury. However, workers risk losing their jobs if they do not return to work when told to by their employers.

A worker is also at risk of getting viewed as the weak link of the chain. He or she could be seen as exaggerating the injuries to stay on light-duty work assignments to drag out their recovery. This might lead to coworkers resenting having to pick up the slack for an injured employee.

Returning an employee to work too soon also places a burden on the immediate supervisor. The supervisor may be forced to find or create busy work for an injured employee who is not 100-percent fit. This could be seen as a waste of resources by supervisors.

Common sense is needed by employees, treating physicians and businesses when determining whether an employee is ready to return to work. This should apply even when a return to work program is in place.