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Health Management - Return To Work - Accommodation

Human Resources


Health Management


Last year, The Workers Compensation Board (WCB) adopted two policies which changed the employer requirements when accommodating or returning employees to work after a workplace injury or illness:

The Accommodation and Undue Hardship Policy requires that an employer accommodate the work or the workplace to the needs of the employee to the extent that the accommodation does not cause the employer undue hardship.

This requirement isn't new to us, as we already have similar legislation under the Alberta Human Rights Act. However, WCB will now also have jurisdiction to deal with issues of accommodation for work-related injuries and illness and provide a more immediate process to deal with disagreements concerning accommodations of an injured employee.

The Responsibilities of Employers and Workers in Return to Work Policy sets new requirements as follows:

Once WCB confirms with the employer that their employee is fit for work full duties, the employee is expected be offered their own position back within one day. If the employee is unable to perform the date of accident duties and temporary accommodation is required, the employer is expected to offer suitable work that is either modified, bundled or alternate work that is within three days.

Accommodation Process

The City is committed to creating an inclusive environment and accommodating employees into our workplace. It is the right thing to do and what’s expected at The City. We also must fulfil our legal obligations regarding the duty to accommodate as required by both Alberta Human Rights Act and WCB Policy.

The following specifically addresses accommodation for disability.

The team

For employees returning to work from medical leave or work injury needing accommodation, the employee and supervisor will work through this process with the help of the Return to Work Coordinator. In more complicated cases union representatives or Human Resource Business Partners might be brought in to assist with finding reasonable accommodation solutions. The goal is to find suitable options that allow an employee to return to work in a safe and productive manner. The process is practical and focuses on problem solving. Accommodation requires cooperation, good communication, flexibility and creativity.

Start with medical documentation

Creating an accommodation plan begins when a doctor has indicated an employee can return with restrictions. It is important that the information the doctor provides is clear in terms of identifying the type of accommodations that need to be made: such as a gradual return to work, reduced hours or adjustments in the type of work being done. This information will be shared with the Return to Work Coordinator who will help coordinate the accommodation process with the employee and leader.

Gather the facts

Once a request for accommodation has been made, the leader and employee with the help of the Return to Work Coordinator work together to understand how the restrictions might impact the ability to meet work requirements. Each case is different. Sometimes the request for accommodation will be simple. The employee is a good resource with suggestions for work alternatives that address their need. And, sometimes additional information will be required to clarify restrictions put forward by doctors.

The stages of accommodation

Once the request for accommodation has been made and the information has been gathered, the process of determining the best accommodation for the situation begins. In cases of S&A, LTD and WCB, the Return to Work Coordinator will facilitate the process and support the leader in finding potential accommodation options. The supervisor is responsible to find appropriate accommodation options by first considering modifying the employee’s own job and the look for alternate or bundled work options.

Finding an accommodation solution at the earliest possible stage in the process reduces the impact to the employee and business unit. It also reduces overall claim costs.

Stage 1

Start by looking to see if the employee’s own job can be modified. This is the best-case scenario. If not, are there options in the employee’s immediate work area and section?

The supervisor identifies the essential and non-essential job duties of the position. Then consider what specific job tasks, work environments, equipment or policies are creating barriers and if adjustments can be made. Can you shift job responsibilities, allow more frequent breaks, change shift schedules?

Finding accommodation at this stage and keeping the employee in their base position has a positive impact on the employee and employer. It enables the employer to retain the skills and abilities of the employee for the work they were hired to do. It reduces productivity loss to the work area. And, it minimizes or eliminates impacts to the employee’s rate of pay and seniority.

Stage 2

If stage one does not result in a match, accommodation in other sections or divisions within the same union and business unit are explored.

Stage 3

The next option is alternatives in other business units within the same department and union.

Stage 4

Alternatives across all business units in the employee’s own union are explored throughout The City.

Stage 5

Alternatives beyond the initial union or non-union jurisdiction are explored.

Document each step

The detail of documentation will depend on the complexity of the case, but in general documentation should include:

  • The request for accommodation is kept by the Return to Work Coordinator and supervisor.
  • Dated notes of all conversations, meeting and telephone discussions in relation to the request for accommodation are kept by the Return to Work Coordinator and leader.
  • The Return to Work Coordinator lists the accommodation alternatives being considered, including those rejected as being unsuitable or constituting undue hardship and document the rationale behind the decision.
  • Record all accommodation offers and the employee’s response. The Return to Work Coordinator keeps track of offers made in the employee’s same business unit, his or her leader keeps documentation of any accommodation offers.
  • If an employee rejects a reasonable offer of accommodation that meets their restrictions and functional abilities, document the refusal and consult with Human Resources as soon as possible on the next steps to address this situation.

Implement, review, and follow up

As soon a suitable accommodation has been found, it is important to develop a plan and get the work environment and team ready for the employee’s return to work. Make sure everyone involved is clear on what is being accommodated, how it will be achieved and the start and end dates if the request is temporary. The Return to Work Coordinator will share all of this information with the supervisor in the accommodating Business Unit.

The supervisor continues to monitor the process and check-in with the employee. The Return to Work Coordinator will also continue to monitor the accommodation process. There may be cases where adjustments are needed. If an accommodation is not working because of medical reasons contact the Return to Work Coordinator or notify your leader. The process needs to be revisited to review potential adjustments, or find an alternate solution.

Who can help?

For general accommodations questions please call HR Support Services at 403-268-5800.

If you have specific questions regarding an existing accommodation case please contact your Return to Work Coordinator or your Human Resource Business Partner.

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