Work accommodation offers are on the rise, but not always accepted

Workplaces in Ontario are headed in the right direction when it comes to offering injured employees a work accommodation, but there’s still more work to be done.

Published: April 10, 2008

A work accommodation offer and its acceptance by an injured worker significantly predict a shorter work absence. These were findings from an Institute for Work & Health study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2007.

Our study found that 69 per cent of workers who were off work due to a musculoskeletal injury were offered a work accommodation six months postinjury, says Scientist Dr. Renée-Louise Franche, who led the study. By contrast, in another Institute study conducted more than 10 years ago, the rate of work accommodations was 38 per cent one year after injury.

Although this increase is encouraging, only 84 per cent of the workers in the current study accepted the offer. This is one of the first studies to look at the acceptance of the offer rather than just the rate of offer itself, notes Franche. The most important reason reported for refusing the offer was not being physically ready or able to go back to work. We need to determine why this is and find solutions.

The study looked at 632 workers who had a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) lost-time claim. They had been absent from their jobs for more than five days. Workers’ information was drawn from two separate sources: interviews and the WSIB administrative database, which captured information such as claim status and the time receiving wage replacement benefits. Participants were interviewed by telephone at one month and six months after their injury. They provided information including their return-to-work (RTW) experiences and duration of work absence.

Researchers compare six RTW strategies

Researchers compared the effectiveness of six early return-to-work/disability prevention strategies in this group of workers. These strategies were identified in a previous review (see below).

The goal was to see how each strategy affected the workers’ time off and receipt of benefits. Researchers found two approaches were critical for effective early RTW. One strategy, described above, was around work accommodation.

They also found that when a health-care provider advised the workplace on how to prevent re-injury in the worker, there was a shorter work absence. The key finding here is that it is the content of the interaction that is important, says Franche.

By using the same methods and population of workers to evaluate the effectiveness of each these strategies, the study identified the most critical strategies in an early (one month post injury) workplace-based return-to-work intervention program.