A recent study conducted by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) that focused on modified work in Ontario's long-term care sector found some evidence that employers offering modified work arrangements to injured employees stand to benefit from a lower disability burden.
Led by Dr. Cameron Mustard, president and senior scientist with the IWH, researchers collected disability and modified work data from 32 licensed long-term care facilities across Ontario between 2005 and 2006. What they found was that facilities that utilized modified work arrangements had a higher ratio of no-time-loss claims to time-loss claims. Their findings also indicate that an increased number of modified workdays lowers the amount of disability days logged.
"It wasn't a dramatic difference," said Mustard, "but it was a difference consistent with both research and the experience of organizations that have adopted modified work practices: early offers of work accommodation and arrangements for modified work do have the potential to shorten the duration of disability."
Mustard sees this as an increasing trend all across the country, as organizations continue to work towards implementing proactive disability and injury arrangements that ultimately benefit disabled workers and contribute to their timely return to work. "It has been the case in Canada that over the last 15 years, certainly, employers have come to recognize that they have a role in supporting the timeliness with which workers, disabled either by a work-related condition or a non-work-related health condition, get back to work. Offering people the opportunity to get back to work before they're fully recovered in a medical sense provides benefits— certainly to the worker and potentially to the employer."
Mustard also stressed the importance of organizations committing to preventing time-loss claims and facilitating work returns by offering modified work accommodations early and communicating with the worker during a disability episode. He points to previous studies conducted by the IWH indicating that this, too, is an increasing trend across the country.
In 1994, his team surveyed some 1,500 disabled workers in Ontario between their 20th and 30th day of a work-related disability and asked them if they had been contacted by their employer. Only 25 per cent of them said yes. Five years ago, Mustard’s team did a similar survey of about 900 workers using a similar timeframe, and 60 per cent of the respondents confirmed that their employers have been in contact with them while on work-related disability.
“There is clearly a strong trend among medium- and large-sized employers in Canada to engage with workers who are absent from work for health reasons—and to engage with them early—to try to identify opportunities to bring them back to work," Mustard said.
The study also did not find strong evidence that modified work arrangements lowered the overall cost of disability. Researchers determined that approximately 60 per cent of disability days were managed by modified work arrangements, but found that disability days mediated by modified duty were not accurately documented in compensation claims. Mustard noted, however, that this is a finding that relates specifically to Ontario, where the study was conducted, and not a trend across all of Canada.
"In Ontario, when an employer initiates a period of modified duty, the employer may if they wish notify the worker's compensation agency. At that point, the employer assumes responsibility for wages and the compensation in Ontario stops paying wage replacement benefits. In British Columbia, the principle is the same in that employers are encouraged to offer and arrange modified duty, but the administration is different. In British Columbia, the worker's compensation agency continue to pay wage replacement benefits during the period of modified duty.”
Mustard could not comment on how these differences in worker's compensation practices might affect a similar study if it were conducted in British Columbia, but the research team's findings do make one thing clear: cost and expenditures aside, modified work is a beneficial practice for both workers and companies across Canada, and one that we'll likely see more and more of as companies continue to recognize its benefits.
For more information on the study, visit www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/62/how-modified-work-affects-disability-outcomes-in-long-term-care