The Fundamentals - Return-to-Work Plan

A return-to-work plan is a tool for managers to proactively help ill or injured employees return to productive employment in a timely and safe manner:

  • A number of employees can safely perform productive and meaningful work while they are recovering.
  • Returning to work is beneficial to the employee and is part of the recovery process.
  • Different situations require different solutions.

The priority is to return the employee to the position he or she held prior to the absence. In this way, the employee can return to his or her routines, workplace and co-workers. If this is not possible, however, other alternatives, in order of desirability, are to return the employee to:

  • A modified job in the same workplace;
  • A different job in the same workplace;
  • A similar job in a different workplace; or
  • A different job in a different workplace.

Return-to-work plans are intended to be transitional and have a fixed duration. Permanent actions are defined as accommodation. Return-to-work plans must include the following information: 

  • The employee’s objectives, to be met gradually until he or she achieves the final goal of fully resuming the job tasks performed before the absence, or, alternately, starting the new job if returning to the former position was not possible. The employee’s abilities, functional limitations and restrictions are taken into account and are to be adjusted according to the employee’s progress;
  • The action required to meet these objectives includes the responsibilities of the employee, the manager and all of the co-workers assigned to support the employee;
  • The time frame to meet these objectives, which establish the deadline for measuring the employee’s progress. It is important for the plan to have a start and end date. Time frames and expectations must respect the employee’s abilities, be clearly stated for the duration of the plan and be revised as needed;
  • To the extent possible, absences for medical checkups must meet the return-to-work plan implementation requirements;
  • The return-to-work date and agreed work schedule;
  • If applicable, all action to be taken to mitigate identified barriers, e.g., special equipment, required training; and
  • The signature of the employee and the manager.

For more information on planning and supporting an employee’s return to work, refer to Handling disability management cases - Return to work.

Establish Ongoing Communication Arrangements

  • Agree in the return-to-work plan about the frequency and the method of contact. What is the best method and medium for communication? Establish a process so that communication will be seen as supportive, not intrusive. Early contact between the employer and the employee can establish a useful and productive pattern.
  • Be proactive about communication and remember that all contact and communication must convey respect and understanding for the injured or ill employee.
  • Make sure that the employee knows that help is available, i.e., the manager, Human Resources, union representatives and the Employee Assistance Program.
  • Provide the employee, in writing, the name, address and phone number of any workers' compensation contacts and/or disability insurance contacts, outline the process for the employee, and make sure the employee has all the necessary forms.
  • Explain the return-to-work process. Let the injured or ill employee know about any transitional employment opportunities, both initially and throughout the recovery process. Assure the employee that any work duties will comply with restrictions and/or limitations identified by the employee's health care provider.
  • Maintain contact that is supportive. The manager should make this ongoing throughout the entire recovery and early return-to-work process.

“Prolonged absence from one's normal roles, including absence from the workplace, is detrimental to a person's mental, physical and social well-being. Physicians should therefore encourage a patient's return to function and work as soon as possible after an illness or injury, provided that return to work does not endanger the patient, his or her co-workers or society. A safe and timely return to work benefits the patient and his or her family by enhancing recovery and reducing disability. Through improvement of health outcomes, a safe and timely return to work also preserves a skilled and stable workforce for employers and society and reduces demands on health and social services as well as on disability plans.”

—“The Physician's Role in Helping Patients Return to Work After Illness or Injury,” Canadian Medical Association, 2010

Seven Principles for a Successful Return to WorkFootnote 1

  1. The workplace has a strong commitment to health and safety, which is demonstrated by the workplace parties.
  2. The employer makes an offer of modified work (that is, work accommodation) to injured and ill workers so that they can return in a safe and timely manner to work activities that are suitable for their abilities.
  3. Return-to-work planners ensure that their plans support returning workers.
  4. Managers are trained in work disability prevention and included in return-to-work planning.
  5. The employer makes a timely and considerate contact with injured and ill workers.
  6. Someone has the responsibility to coordinate an employee's return to work.
  7. With the worker's consent, employers and health care providers communicate with each other about workplace demands as needed.

Examples of Return-to-Work Plans

Promising Practices

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC): Return-to-Work Intervention Protocol

The following intervention protocol by PWGSC outlines roles and responsibilities when an employee returns to work. The protocol is revised yearly or as required:

Claims/Case Management (CCM)

  • Provide support to both employee and employer by facilitating the return-to-work process with a multidisciplinary team.
  • Provide maximum information regarding available programs and service providers.
  • Set well-defined terms of reference.
  • Provide immediate assistance in a crisis.
  • Provide direction on ergonomic issues.
  • Coordinate and facilitate multidisciplinary meetings.
  • Ensure that medical information is well defined and that privacy is respected.
  • On behalf of management and employee, prepare temporary work agreements and work schedules.
  • Act as point of contact for employees participating in an approved return-to-work program.
  • Have access to view the departmental human resources and leave systems with regard to relevant information enabling CCM to deliver the mandate deriving from this policy.
  • Receive from Compensation Services notification of the reduction or termination of disability insurance or long-term disability benefits for employees participating in an approved return-to-work program.
  • Provide orientation sessions to compensation consultants and managers with regard to the CCM philosophy and services available to PWGSC employees.
  • Cooperate with Labour Relations regarding requests to Health Canada for fitness-to-work evaluations (long-term sick leave without pay cases).

Labour Relations

  • Give advice on duty to accommodate.
  • Give advice on related employer policies.
  • Request from Health Canada a fitness-to-work evaluation.
  • Monitor long-term sick leave without pay cases for management follow-up.
  • Give advice to the manager.
  • Prepare letters to employees for management.
  • Interact with the union representative.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Employee Services

  • Provide career counselling
  • Provide learning centre mentoring.
  • Provide all services on a case-by-case basis.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Employment Equity, Persons with Disabilities Portfolio, Staffing, Employment Equity and Awards Division

  • Give advice and interpretations related to the Employment Equity Act, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and departmental/agency policies.
  • Give advice and do research on specialized devices/equipment and contact persons and agencies in general.
  • Give advice on the duty to accommodate.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Employee and Organization Assistance Program

  • Organize informal return-to-work sessions for short leaves of absence (there is no need for the claims/case manager to be involved).
  • Provide one-on-one consultations to employees and employers regarding the return to work.
  • Inform clients about the CCM program and meet clients for interviews.
  • Provide information to claims/case managers with regard to community resources for clients.
  • Schedule a preliminary meeting before the actual return to work.
  • Set up an interview with the employee prior to the return to work.
  • Hold follow-up conversations.
  • Consult on client-related issues.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Resourcing Services

  • Staff positions.
  • Discuss positions that could be suitable for employees coming back from long-term leave without pay.
  • Consult Labour Relations specialists, and if necessary collaborate with the Public Service Commission of Canada, to determine whether or not the employee meets the requirements to benefit from a priority entitlement.
  • Register the employee in the Priority Information Management System (PIMS) for the priority entitlement and counsel the employee on how to respond and apply once priority referrals are received.
  • Informally help employees find a position by emphasizing their competencies and by circulating their resumé to client managers who might be interested in their qualifications. Document the result of these referrals.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Staffing Policy

  • Interpret acts, regulations and directives relating to staffing and recruitment.
  • Act as a referral system for Resourcing Services (to be developed in cooperation with Resourcing Services and Employment Equity).
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Organization Performance and Learning

  • Provide managers with learning kits for employees returning to work.
  • Provide learning tools to employees returning to work.
  • Give advice on learning issues to managers through performance consultants.
  • Help managers prepare a learning plan for employees.
  • Suggest a review of training options.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.


  • Provide customized service as requested.
  • Provide all services on a case-by-case basis.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Compensation Services

  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings as needed to give advice and information to participating employees with regard to salary administration, benefit options, etc., in connection with a return-to-work program.
  • Administer salary and leave in accordance with return-to-work schedules established by the cost centre manager, the employee and management.
  • Provide timely information to the cost centre manager with regard to salary, statutory deductions and tax exemptions in the administration of injury-on-duty situations.
  • Flag cases to the appropriate level of authority for any service request unanswered within prescribed time periods (as required by provincial legislation and departmental/agency policy).
  • Provide amended tax slips (federal and provincial) regarding approved workers' compensation benefits.


  • Attend ongoing consultations.
  • Attend multidisciplinary return-to-work meetings.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC)

HRSDC has established a National Disability Management Unit currently consisting of regional disability management advisors providing enterprise-wide services and a Corporate Disability Management Centre of Expertise. This unit has:

  • Identified specific roles and responsibilities for disability management advisors;
  • Invested in training and development for on the Disability Management and Return-to-Work Program; and
  • Established and launched a disability management intranet site.

Correctional Service Canada

  • Committees discuss cases of employees who have not returned to work due to an occupational or non-occupational injury or illness. The injury or illness can be of a temporary or permanent nature. The mandate of the committee has expanded to include the discussion of employees who are injured or disabled with or without lost time from work who have been recently accommodated or brought to the attention of the joint Return-to-Work Committee.
  • A notification letter is sent to the employee prior to the initial case discussion. If the employee does not wish to have the case discussed, it is depersonalized and key identifiers removed (gender, accident date, occupation, etc.) to protect anonymity. If the case remains identifiable after depersonalization, it is escalated to the next Return-to-Work Committee level for discussion.
Figure 1: Return-to-Work Committee Structure of Correctional Service Canada
Return-to-Work Committee Structure of Correctional Service Canada: Text version below
Figure 1: Return-to-Work Committee Structure of Correctional Service Canada - Text version

Correctional Service Canada's Return-to-Work Committee Structure comprises three committees:

  • The first is the Local Joint Union-Management Committee. All institutions must have a committee in place to review and advise on the return to work of injured employees who have been off duty for less than six months.
  • The second is the Regional Joint Union-Management Committee. Each region must have a committee in place to oversee and advise on the return to work of all injured employees who have been off duty for more than six months.
  • The third is the National Joint Union-Management Committee. This committee reviews all cases of injured employees who have not returned to work after 12 months.

Injury-On-Duty Leave

  • For the purpose of managing the return to work of employees who are injured on duty, minimally:
    • All institutions will have a joint union-management committee in place to review and advise on the return to work of all injured employees.
    • Each region will have a joint union-management committee in place to oversee and advise on the return to work of all injured employees who have been off duty for more than 6 months.
    • A national committee of union and management representatives will review all cases of injured workers who have not returned to work after 12 months.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC)

The CHRC has developed a Guide for Managing Return to Work.

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