Alberta's Return to Work Program
There are a number of reasons a worker may need to ease their way back into work and other areas of life. Maybe you were on maternity leave or took a leave for other reasons. Here we will focus mainly on those returning to work after a work related injury.
Returning to Work
In Alberta, the return to work program is built to support workers as they go back to the job through a number of resources including the possibility for restructuring the job requirements to accommodate a return as early as possible.
You are assigned a case manager who will work with you, your employer and any related health care specialists or insurance companies to help you.
The Workers Compensation Board of Alberta (WCB) is your primary government resource for any needs or questions to do with your situation.
Once you have submitted your claim and been approved it’s time to start planning your return to work.
Your return-to-work plan
This plan is created with your caseworker, your employer and yourself. Primarily, the purpose of this plan is to set up a timeline and a series of goals to help you get back to work.
One of the key responsibilities of the injured party in this process is consistent communication with your caseworker. This allows for you to receive the right benefits at the right times and track your progress in order to time your return to work properly.
A modified position at work can help you ease back into the job while you recover. In 2014, modified work helped more than 45,000 workers succeed at work following a workplace injury.
These meetings happen in order to evaluate your specific situation and properly assess the requirements of your injury.
The return-to-work planning meeting prep sheet can help you prepare the necessary information and documents for your meeting.
The return-to-work planning meeting fact sheet is a FAQ for your information on any questions you might have about the meeting.
Is the Modified Work Program Helpful?
According to one article on Alberta Injured Workers the program is quite idealistic and in practice tends to favor the employers preference to the worker.
“With my case and stories from many other injured workers, this went against what our family doctors reported. If you do not participate with the modified work program, WCB suspends your benefits because the policy surrounding this issue gives them the authority to do this.“
Obviously this is not always the case and negotiations around a workplace injury can be difficult to navigate. That being said, it is important to hear feedback whether negative or positive especially when the program is intended to help those who find themselves in vulnerable and precarious situations.
It makes sense that the attitude of the employer in this situation will largely determine the experience of injured workers. If employers are not willing to accommodate the process this makes things uncomfortable and difficult all around.
Developing your RTW Program
A Return to Work (RTW) program solidifies a process for workers and supervisors, so that they will know what to do in case of injury. It is important to have this system in place but I think we can all agree that it is our hope that we don’t have to use it often, if ever
Components of the Program
An organization’s commitment to participating and aiding in the return to work program.
- What is the process followed by involved parties in case of injury?
- Responsibilities of involved persons
- How to Identify suitable work
- Documentation of individual RTW plans
- Monitoring RTW plans
- Evaluation of RTW Program
Program Awareness for all employees
Check the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission’s website for resources such as templates and guides for developing your program
Dealing with Trauma
Depending on the severity of your injury, returning to the job can be a terrifying and anxiety inducing experience.
So how do you deal with the repercussions of traumatic workplace injuries?
Part of dealing with the trauma of the event can be confronting any fear and anxiety by returning to the job. This can be part of the process for some people and may include certain measures such as decreased hours and change in tasks.
The reality of emotional and psychological damage is that it is hard to treat. The problem with these types of damages is that they are more difficult to pin down and are often confusing and difficult for the victim of the incident to process.
Post Injury Symptoms
The work environment for most people is challenging, demanding and complex in nature. One of the most significant and commonly reported symptoms following an injury is fatigue. Another common reaction to an injury is feelings of depression. These are completely natural but important to be aware of.
No two injury survivors will have the same needs with regards returning to work. Vocational rehabilitation is not prescriptive or a one size fits all approach.
Be sure to visit the WSCC’s site and go through their return to work checklist.
What The Law Says
New legislation clarifies expectations of workers and employers in regard to return-to-work. In any of these categories where an injured worker is able to return to work, employers in Alberta will be required to reinstate an injured worker, and if necessary will be required to accommodate a remaining disability up to the point of undue hardship
Over 80% of workers injured in 2016 accessed modified duties as part of their recovery
The concept of undue hardship is outlined in Human Rights Law and includes the following elements:
- Disruption of operations
- Financial costs
- Size and resources of the employer
- Interchangeability of the workforce and facilities
- Health and safety concerns
- Morale problems of other employees brought about by the accommodation
- Substantial interference with the rights of other individuals or groups
For more information please refer to this WCB PDF.