Time to heal
The workplace is not a rehabilitation centre. With adequate time for medical recovery and job accommodation, an injured worker should be able to return to work safely and without fear of re-injury. In fact, the WSIB once acknowledged the need to properly balance recovery and safety in their Best Approaches adjudicative guide Recognizing Time to Heal (2005).
This was replaced by Better at Work, based on the belief that “immediate” return to work is always preferable… The Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups, in its July 2016 letter to the Premier on this mistaken and harmful philosophy, calls for policy to be based on the “early and safe” return to work legislation and aligned with the evidence in current research. Better at Work continues to be widely critiqued as ignoring the worker’s individual situation, pressuring injured workers back to work prematurely and pushing hurt workers into ‘humiliating’ jobs and unemployment. The Board’s 2019 Return-to-work policy review and new policies (in effect Nov. 2020) fail to address these core concerns.
The goal of vocational rehabilitation should be decent, safe and sustainable work for the worker who is actually employed as a result – not merely “deemed” to be employed. It must provide financial security for the worker if return to work fails.
Ontario’s vocational rehabilitation program (now “work transition”) has undergone many changes including outsourcing to the private sector its retraining services for those unable to return to their previous employer (Labour Market Re-entry program). Its many problems were made public in the Toronto Star’s 2009 report “A jobs program that fails” and Ontario Ombudsman investigation of private career colleges.
Effective return to work?
The current program of Work Reintegration came into full effect in 2011 following KPMG’s 2009 LMR Value-for-Money Audit recommendations. It merged the Labour Market Re-entry and Early and Safe Return to Work programs, putting all rehabilitation services back under the Board’s direct operation. During the rushed consultations injured workers and their advocates raised concerns about:
- Lack of time to heal and the risk of re-injury
- Expansion of deeming
- Arbitrary and harmful time limits on retraining
- Cutbacks for older workers
They also called on the Board to take steps to address:
- the special needs of more vulnerable workers (those injured while working in non-unionized workplaces, often in temporary or precarious jobs)
- early recognition of toxic work environments
- continued access to retraining and loss of earnings benefits if employment relationships break down
Why a supportive work environment matters
Goodwill and trust in the workplace by employer and co-workers are key to a successful return to work. Suspicion of the legitimacy of an injury, resentment over job accommodations, myths that workers with disabilities are less productive or will be more costly or affect experience rating – all can add stress and be a barrier to recovery. Returning workers, if feeling pressured to constantly “prove” they are pulling their weight, also run the risk of physical re-injury.
- Institute for Work & Health. 2020 Feb. “Poorer Post-Injury Experiences Lead to Worse RTW Outcomes for Psychological Claimants.” At Work 99 (Winter)
- Gewurtz, Rebecca, Stephanie Premji & Linn Holness. 2018. “The Experiences of Workers Who Do Not Successfully Return to Work Following A Work-Related Injury.” Work 61(4): 537-549
- Mojtehedzadeh, Sara. 2018 Mar. 13. “Employers Are Firing Injured Workers Unjustly – And Getting Away With It.” Toronto Star
- Institute for Work & Health. 2018. Supporting Return to Work Among Employees with Musculoskeletal or Mental Health Conditions.
- Mojtehedzadeh, Sara. 2016 Sep. 12. “WSIB Policy Pushes Hurt Workers into ‘Humiliating’ Jobs and Unemployment, Critics Say.” Toronto Star
- MacEachen, Ellen et al. 2010. “The ‘Toxic Dose’ of System Problems: Why Some Workers Don’t Return to Work as Expected.” Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation 20: 349-366