Creating a Safe Return to Work: Best Practices for Employee Rehabilitation

employee rehabilitation

Returning to work after an injury or illness can be challenging for employees, affecting their overall well-being and productivity. With over 2.8 million work-related injuries occurring every year, this process is all too common in the workplace. Employers play a pivotal role in helping employees transition back to work and find their stride again. This article delves into the importance of creating an effective return-to-work process for employee rehabilitation. It will focus on the best practices for employee rehabilitation, emphasizing the importance of clear communication, collaboration, and ongoing support. Helping employees feel confident going back to work is an essential task employers must take on.

Understanding Employee Rehabilitation

Employee rehabilitation, or occupational rehabilitation, is the process used to assist employees in transitioning back to work following an injury or illness. This process helps employees overcome physical, mental, and emotional barriers in their return to work, ensuring they can regain their work-related skills and confidence. The goal of employee rehabilitation isn’t just helping the employee reintegrate into the workplace. This process encourages employees through their recovery, offering them support and building their confidence.

Employee rehabilitation not only benefits employees but also the organization as a whole. A well-executed return-to-work program can significantly improve an injured employee’s well-being by providing structure, routine, and social interaction throughout their recovery. On the organizational level, these programs lead to cost savings through reduced absenteeism, lower employee turnover, and higher productivity. Effective return-to-work programs also foster enhanced employee morale, as these programs show employees that their employer values their well-being.

By understanding the purpose of employee rehabilitation programs, employers can seek out the best practices and implement them in the workplace.

Best Practices for Employee Rehabilitation

Creating a successful employee rehabilitation program relies on several best practices. These essential practices serve as the program’s foundational elements and provide maximum support to recovering employees.

Clear Communication and Early Intervention

Establishing clear and open lines of communication with injured employees is crucial for employee rehabilitation. Employers are responsible for setting up these channels and regularly checking in on the employee’s progress, concerns, and needs.

In addition to clear communication, early intervention is crucial to an employee’s recovery and return to work. Employers need to be aware of injuries or illnesses to implement necessary support and accommodation. Employers should set up protocols for reporting injuries and illnesses to get the return-to-work process started.

Collaborative Approach 

Employers should work with recovering employees’ healthcare providers, including doctors, physical therapists, and psychologists, to learn more about their condition and how they need support. This allows employers to develop tailored rehabilitation plans targeting the employee’s needs and goals.

Individualized Rehabilitation Plans

Since every employee’s injury is unique, so are their recovery and rehabilitation plans. Employers must work with employees to determine their goals for the rehabilitation process. These goals can then serve as milestones for the employee’s recovery. Each employee’s recovery plan should reflect their limitations, goals, and needs.

Workplace Accommodations

The United States has implemented laws requiring employers to provide employees with reasonable accommodation due to injury or disability. These accommodations ensure that the workplace is not only accessible for all employees but also promotes an effective workflow. Some accommodations may include ergonomic adjustments, flexible work hours, or assistive technology. 

Gradual Return-to-Work and Phased Reintegration

Rather than diving straight back to work, employees should be given the option to phase back into work gradually. This phasing may look like reduced hours or a lighter workload that gradually increases. This process allows rehabilitating employees to regain their confidence slowly and prevents overexertion, which can lead to further injury. 

Ongoing Support and Monitoring

Employers should continually check in with employees throughout the employee rehabilitation process, even after they have fully returned to work. Checking in allows employers to address any new challenges facing employees and helps them maintain a sustainable transition. Employers can use employee feedback to improve the overall employee rehabilitation program.

Utilizing these best practices creates a hospitable and supportive environment for recovering employees to return to. By implementing these strategies, employers can see higher productivity, enhanced employee health, and reduced costs.

Addressing Challenges and Overcoming Barriers

Implementing an effective employee rehabilitation program may be met with pushback and challenges. However, some strategies can help employers overcome barriers and see success in their employee rehabilitation program. Some common barriers include stigma around disabilities and lack of training among managers.

Employers can address these barriers through a variety of means. Creating an anti-stigma campaign can reduce bias among managers and employees, making recovering employees more comfortable with their return to work. Additionally, all members of management should undergo training sessions for the employee rehabilitation program. This training ensures everyone in leadership positions is on the same page regarding the program and policies. 

Creating a safe return to work for recovering employees is a vital responsibility for employers. By implementing these best practices, employers can create an effective employee rehabilitation program that supports the needs of recovering employees. 

How Can We Help?

Work Health Solutions offers comprehensive healthcare solutions for your medical needs. Our qualified team treats patients and employers alike and always provides top-quality service. We back our quality service with years of experience. We have worked with academic and research institutions, corporate healthcare, Fortune 25 companies, small governments, and local businesses. Reach out today with any questions about how we can assist you!

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Dr. Michael Tenison

A series of notable accomplishments distinguish Dr. Michael Tenison’s career in medical operations and healthcare management:

  • Successfully led medical operations at a national healthcare provider, focusing on optimizing healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.
  • Oversaw the regional medical practices in key markets like Oregon and Northern California, ensuring consistent, quality medical care and service delivery.
  • Demonstrated exceptional leadership in building and mentoring a large medical provider team, enhancing team performance and patient care standards.
  • Implemented strategic company policies and protocols, significantly improving center efficiency, clinical quality, and patient experiences.
  • Played a pivotal role in financial planning and identifying growth opportunities for healthcare services, contributing to the organization’s overall success.
  • Served as a primary point of contact for regional employer clients and insurance companies, fostering strong relationships and effective communication.
  • Maintained high medical care and case management standards through diligent supervision, chart audits, and performance metric analysis.

Dr. Matt Feeley

Dr. Matt Feeley is a renowned figure in military aviation medicine, with a robust background in occupational and environmental medicine from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

  • Former Naval Flight Surgeon, exemplifying his expertise in aerospace medicine and commitment to military health.
  • Served with distinction at NSA Bahrain and HSM-37, earning the COMPACFLT Flight Surgeon of the Year award for exceptional medical service.
  • Supported U.S. Marines VMFA-323 aboard the USS Nimitz, MACG-38, and VMU-3, demonstrating versatility and leadership in diverse medical environments.
  • Broad interests and significant contributions in global health, corporate medicine, and aerospace medicine, highlighting his multidisciplinary approach.
  • Proven track record as a dynamic leader, well-equipped to face the challenges in a fractional medical directorship role with innovative solutions.

Dr. Glen Cheng

A physician-attorney with a dedication to healthcare innovation, informatics, and digital health.

  • Currently spearheads employee health protection and promotion within the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.
  • Trained in residency at Harvard, achieving board certification as a physician; also a licensed patent attorney with experience as FDA regulatory counsel.
  • Co-founded Acceleromics, a consulting firm providing clinical and regulatory guidance to digital health startups.

Erin Davis

 Chief Clinical Officer at Work Health Solutions, certified in Adult-Gerontology (AGNP-C) and Athletic Training (ATC).

  • Oversees clinical operations and ensures high clinical standards across the company’s national field staff.
  • Former Manager of Clinic Operations and Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner at Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC).
  • Specialized in treating occupational injuries and illnesses, and provided medical surveillance and travel medicine consults at Stanford and SLAC National Accelerator Lab.
  • Dedicated to sports and occupational injury treatment and prevention.
  • Assistant Clinical Faculty at UCSF, mentoring students in clinical rotations within the Adult Gerontology and Occupational and Environmental Health Program.
  • Holds leadership roles as Treasurer and President Elect of the California El Camino Real Association of Occupational Health Nurses (CECRAOHN), affiliated with the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN).

Dr. Robert Goldsmith

Expert in benefits design and onsite innovation with specialization in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Previous role as Executive Director for Employee Health at Novartis Services, Inc., leading health services and clinical support.
  • Instrumental in creating an integrated healthcare system at Novartis.
  • Former private practice in internal medicine in Stamford, Connecticut, and Medical Director consultant for GTE Corporation.
  • Transitioned to GE as a Global Medical Director in 2000.
  • Holds a medical degree from Albert Einstein College, an MPH from the University of Connecticut, and completed training at Greenwich Hospital and Yale-New Haven Medical Center.
  • Assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Vagelos School of Medicine, Columbia University.
  • Serves as a team physician for high school athletes in Stamford.
  • Published works on occupational health risks, primary prevention, and exercise-induced asthma.