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Making work accommodations work

Depending on the nature of the injury and the nature of recovery, in some cases although the worker may need a period of rest away from the workplace to aid in recovery, a return-to-work offer should be made by the employer as soon as possible.

Many employers make blanket offers of modified or accommodated work, only to have those offers deemed as unsuitable by the compensation board, which result in the payment of wage loss benefits and increased costs.

Following are some things to consider when making an offer of modified work to an injured worker.

Is the work safe?

Is the worker able to perform the work safely without causing injury to himself or other workers? If the worker is taking any medication that makes it dangerous to himself or others to perform the work, then it may not be suitable. Although workers may argue medication makes them unable to drive, employers can work around the transportation issue by arranging transportation for the worker on a temporary basis. It may cost the company less in the long run to pay for transportation rather than have a worker stay at home and collect wage loss benefits.

Is the work productive?

Does the work add value to the organization, and is it “real work?” It is generally acceptable to put together a number of different duties to accommodate the worker for a period of time. However, the work should be productive work that needs to be done or would otherwise be assigned to another worker. Employers that have brought workers into the workplace, only to have them sit in a room for an entire shift without doing any real work, have been found out and workers have been entitled to wage loss benefits.  

Is the work within the worker’s functional abilities?

While injured workers will often focus on those duties they can’t perform, it is important to focus on those things they can do by obtaining functional abilities information from the treating practitioner and the worker himself. Start by looking at the worker’s pre-injury job and see which duties he is able to do, and which may need to be accommodated. Ensure the worker is aware he should only work within his functional abilities, and that he should report to his supervisor if he has trouble with the task assigned or is experiencing increased symptoms. Additional changes or accommodation may be required if such issues arise.

Does the work restore the worker’s earnings?

Workers are generally entitled to wage loss benefits if they experience a wage loss because of a workplace injury. Therefore, paying a worker less than regular wages for accommodated work may result in benefits being paid and increased costs. Consider paying the worker pre-injury wages, but monitor return to work to ensure there is a progression back to regular hours and/or regular duties.

David Marchione

David Marchione is an occupational health and safety consultant and paralegal at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 868-3468 or dmarchione@fasken.com, or visit www.ehslaw.ca for more information.
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