Ask a Lawyer: Returning To Work [VIDEO]

Returning to work after a serious injury or illness can seem daunting. Questions abound; how will you know when you’re physically and mentally ready to return? Should you push yourself to go back to work earlier than your doctor recommends? Is your job at risk if you stay away for too long? Here we weigh in on the process of returning to work, including the pitfalls of returning too soon, listening to the doctor’s orders, and how a little effort can go a long way.

When we think about the process of recovery, it’s very easy to imagine concrete boundaries and guidelines. But with certain disabilities or injuries, the markers for recovery aren’t as cut and dry as a common illness. As such, taking on too much too soon can hinder recovery, and even make matters worse, setting the injured party back days, weeks, or possibly months.

Medical repercussions aside, if an injured party returns to work too soon, their performance may suffer, which could put them at risk of being fired. Returning to work before a full recovery can give an employer grounds for termination with just cause. This becomes particularly dangerous for the injured party if they’ve been back at work for a long enough period of time, functioning at a moderate to a mediocre level. In these cases, they may find themselves jobless and without benefits.

It’s best not to return to work until you feel fully capable of doing your previous job to the best of your abilities.

Not making any effort, however, can also be damaging. As such, returning to work in a modified capacity is an excellent option as an alternative to going immediately back to full-time employment. An important part of recovery is testing physical boundaries safely, and often this will come at a physician’s recommendation. Alison Gilmour, one of our associate lawyers, says “if it’s consistent with what your doctors are saying to you about what you need to do in your life, then you should do that.”

In any situation, it’s imperative to mitigate damages. If you push yourself to return too quickly, you may put yourself at risk both medically and financially. But making no effort, for whatever reason, is similarly problematic for your health and professional progress. “Everybody would rather earn their full income than part of their income,” Gilmour says. Sometimes returning to work takes time, and is best done incrementally to protect your health as well as your livelihood.


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