Helping Injured Employees Return to Work

January 25, 2018 | Juli Jenkins, SCLA

Juli Jenkins, SCLA; Client Service Executive; LMC Insurance and Risk Management

As an employer, you’re focused on the needs of your business. So when an employee becomes injured and unable to work, you make adjustments to ensure that employee’s job responsibilities are being handled. It’s understandable and necessary, but have you also considered the needs of the injured employee?

Many employees struggle while recovering from an injury and the subsequent return-to-work process. The good news is there are things employers can do to help.

Employees who are out of work due to injury face unique challenges. They are isolated from their work life and colleagues, may be struggling to recover from their injury and unable to perform everyday tasks. Employees may also have feelings of guilt, blaming themselves for the injury. They may even wonder if the company is angry with them. If they don’t hear from anyone at work during their time away, they may feel as if they are not needed.

Time spent away from work can cause depression, frustration and anxiety. A study by the Institute for Work and Health found that workers who missed at least five days of work due to work-related injuries felt symptoms of depression. Additional research shows the longer an employee is away from work, the less likely he or she will return at all.

Reach Out During Recovery

One of the most isolating factors for an individual away from work is silence, particularly from colleagues and the immediate manager. Checking in with a phone call or email can mean a lot to the injured employee. When contacting an employee who is out on leave, keep these tips in mind:

  • Wait a few days before reaching out. This allows the employee to process the situation and ease into a new routine. If the employee seems open to it, maintain contact throughout the leave.
  • Ask how he or she is feeling, without inquiring about specific health information or diagnosis.
  • Ask if the employee has talked to his or her doctor about returning to work.
  • Emphasize the manager and company want the employee back.
  • Show genuine concern and sympathy, rather than just asking “When will you return?”
  • Remind the individual about your company’s employee assistance program, if applicable. It may help ease the anxiety and other emotions.
  • Keep the employee informed of company events and workplace happenings. Extend an invitation to company social events, if he or she is medically able to attend. Ask the employee if he or she wants to hear from coworkers and let others know how to make contact.

Bring Them Back To Work as Soon As Possible

Research has shown that being out of work is bad for our health, and the longer someone is absent, the harder it can be for him or her to return. The sooner your employee returns to work, the more beneficial it will be—both mentally and physically. Not only does early return-to-work help employees stay active and engaged, it helps employees maintain relationships with coworkers.

Before an injured employee returns to work, it may be necessary to make workplace adjustments to ensure his or her job can be performed safely and effectively. For example, the employee might just need a chair while working, an accessible ramp or less time in front of a computer. Depending on how long the employee was absent, you might consider an onboarding program to review industry updates, processes, equipment and safety measures.

When the Employee Returns

When an employee returns to work after an injury, an employer’s support can help improve the employee’s recovery. To make an injured employee’s transition easier, consider the following ideas:

  • Return-to-work communication should extend to any members of the workforce affected by the employee’s return. Inform the team about the employee’s return and how it may impact their job duties.
  • Make sure the returning employee has an adequate workstation and necessary equipment.
  • On the first day back, update the employee on any new hires or changes to the company or department. Emphasize the employee’s safety and health is paramount, and ask that he or she tell you immediately if a task exceeds his or her restrictions.
  • Keep communication lines open. Have a timeline for the transitional work period and a set time for a return to full duties. Continue to inquire about the employee’s well-being periodically, and adjust the return-to-work plan as needed. Be open to accommodations needed for the individual to perform job tasks, either temporarily or permanently.

Support and understanding after a work-related injury is important and can often set the foundation for an employee’s road to recovery. The return-to-work process is different for everyone and can be an emotional time for the injured employee. Teamwork and regular communication between all involved is essential for a successful outcome.

Juli Jenkins is a client service executive at LMC Insurance and Risk Management in West Des Moines, Iowa. Contact her via email at