3.4 Return to work after sick leave: what managers should know

Establishing a return to work (RTW) policy and/or program of inclusion and stay at work is not difficult. Some companies already include many of the policies unofficially in the way they handle claims. It is important, however, to execute these programs correctly. Clear guidelines and specific, consistent policies must be established in writing as a mean of workplace quality. Managers should be trained and people with responsibility to handle the RTW of workers should be identified and trained.
A successful RTW training program can be carried out either online or face-to-face.
For online RTW training the company’s intranet may be used. The online training may consist of several parts, each of which, focusing on different topics.

Regarding face-to-face training, the enterprise can offer periodic training modules that provide managers with the necessary skills for guiding an employee through the RTW pathway. Human resources (HR) personnel and managers can choose which modules to take part according to their needs. Here the 4 most common training modules that should be provided to managers are listed.
To monitor the effectiveness of training initiatives, an annual survey should be performed among managers to assess whether they find the training adequate or whether the materials lack any essential topics.
HR personnel and managers may take part in one or more of the modules reported in the boxes below.

Suggestions for online training

  • Webinar on the development of policies, relationships, and management structures that streamline the management of sick employees’ return to work
  • Guidelines on how to build return to work program
  • Webinars on how to conduct interviews with employees that return to work after sick leave
  • Webinars on how to monitor the process of employees’ return to work

Suggestions for face-to-face training

  • Module 1. Designing tasks and work activities to be included in the RTW process
  • Module 2. Developing RTW tools
  • Module 3. How to implement a positive RTW culture
  • Module 4. The role of supervisors and managers in the RTW process

Examples of RTW strategies

Return to work programs involve “light duty” or alternative jobs for recovering employees. For example, you can assign less strenuous or stressful parts of the employee’s normal job or have them work at a slower rate. You can also combine the less strenuous or stressful parts of several different jobs to create one full-time job for the recovering employee; this could free up other employees to take on special projects or catch up with work that is falling behind. A supervisor can also assign a special project without a tight deadline to a recovering employee. As another alternative, some companies work with local not-for-profit organizations to keep the employee engaged with light work duties while making a notable contribution to the community.

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