A strong, well-documented return to work program will limit an employer’s financial liability and reduce days lost to workplace injury

Happy fall to one and all.

As we rush to complete current projects before Old Man Winter arrives, there is one interesting phenomenon that always comes along at this time of year: seasonal layoff injuries!

I know, we all thought they were only a myth. After all, just like the Tooth Fairy, Big Foot and the swamp monster, no one really sees them – but lo and behold, we do see the statistics.

Seasonal layoff injuries really do exist. We in the injury management business see them yearly. They are real, they are extremely frustrating and they can be very, very costly to your business in lost time, in dollars and cents, and in company morale.  

Mature Doctor Looking At Female Patient Showing Her Paining Shoulder In Clinic

How do you spot one of these not so mythical creatures? We have often been told to watch for these significant signs:

Someone who repeatedly asks when layoff is, inquires whether there are any projects coming after this one, asks about their seniority position for layoffs, asks about the first, second and third rounds of layoffs, etc.  

 Someone who complains of having to work later into the year than expected and wishes layoffs were coming sooner.

Someone who does not want to travel to the next project and would much rather stay closer to home – or on the other hand, they prefer to stay further away from home, etc.

Often, people will report an injury that just happened to occur out of sight of everyone else; something that is unusual for their respective type of work, or something that happened when they strayed from their normal job to do something else.

Now, as we all know, if an injury is reported at work the WCB views all injuries as no fault – so they will be covered, and your company will be held financially responsible. The injured worker will go to his or her respective doctor or primary care provider, who will take them off work for a period of time. If the worker really wants to be off for a while, they can play it up and get that time extended. They will be given a referral from the doctor for rehabilitative physical therapy. Again, if they wish to drag this out, they can try to get onto a wait list at some of the more preferred clinics. Then the rehab begins – and that can take months when an injured worker wants to drag things out and perhaps embellishes their symptoms and limits their physical abilities just a little. I know, I am so jaded!  

So, what can employers do? Well, as we have said before in our articles, you should have a very strong, well documented and executable safety and return to work (RTW) program. This should be presented at each employee’s orientation and signed off by them at least once a year. This program is not just a paper document, but a real program, so you can severely limit your losses and reduce your liability to lost injury days.

Here is how it works: Your RTW program kicks into place as soon as someone is injured. The injured employee reports to the supervisor, if possible, then gets treatment. The supervisor ensures the injured worker is accompanied to make sure they are safe and securely transported to medical care. At that time, the medical care provider is given the company’s RTW paperwork. This will ensure the medical provider is aware the company can and will accommodate any and all physical restrictions. The company will offer to pay if there is any cost for the completion of this documentation, so the injured worker does not have to worry about it. Transport the worker home if necessary.  

The employer will now arrange to implement the necessary restrictions outlined by the medical care provider and will ensure the injured worker is following through on them. Provide necessary onsite facilitations such as ice packs, hot packs, a chair or cot to rest, etc.  

In this way, you, the company, will have very few lost days due to injuries. You will facilitate a culture of no lost time and, further, you will place the emphasis on RTW and quick and complete recovery. Also, when it is understood that there is no “holiday” for being injured, with time off at home and physio once or twice a week, the lure of the seasonal layoff injury will lose its shine.  

Clifford Gerow is executive director of Injury Solutions Canada.


What is the Employer’s Role in a Return to Work Program?  

As the employer, you are responsible to:

  • Offer safe and suitable modified or alternate duties that are within the worker’s functional abilities;
  • Be flexible and tailor the return to work plan to meet the worker’s individual needs in their recovery;
  • Keep in touch with injured workers and the WCB throughout the return to work process – checking in with injured workers throughout their recovery helps them maintain a connection with the workplace and shows that they are valued;
  • Ensure supervisors and co-workers support injured workers during recovery and participate in the return to work process;
  • Educate your workforce on why return to work is good for business and outline the expectations for supporting a worker in a modified or accommodated role; and
  • Outline the process your staff are to follow if they are injured at work.

The most successful return to work plans are those where the employer also has a designated contact person or return to work co-ordinator. This individual is the single point of contact with the WCB to ensure consistent handling and timely intervention.

– courtesy Workers Compensation Board (WCB) of Manitoba