Returning To Work After A Disability
In days of old, when a person incurred an injury or disease which caused them to be unable to perform their job, they were sent home until cleared by their treating doctor. This tended to be true whether the problem was related to work or not. This old-fashioned approach is being replaced by a philosophy of returning people to work as soon as they are able to do meaningful work. The push for the change has come from two things: new medical research and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Medical research has shown that when individuals become disabled and are kept away form work, they do not do as well as those who are allowed to return to work, even if the work is restricted. Those kept from working have been shown to:
- require more medications, especially pain medication
- be more likely to have surgery
- be more likely not to do well after surgery
- have more problems with depression or physiological problems associated with their injury or disease.
The ADA, which became law in 1992, guarantees a number of rights to Americans with a variety of disabling conditions. One area where protection exists is in the right to return to work following a disability. The employer is obliged to try to bring the person back to work, even if that requires making an adjustment in their job situation. The employee can even be considered for placement in another position with the same employer.
Several techniques are available to assist the doctor, the employee, and the employer to work together to smooth the return to work.
- Functional Capacity Evaluation: This is an extensive (4 – 8 hours) battery of tests perform by a physical therapist to provide objective information about what a person can safely do. This will help guide in job placement and give guidance to the patients for activities away from work.
- Job Task Analysis: This is a formal evaluation of the demands of a job. It can be performed by physical and occupational therapists and other health care professionals to accurately describe what a job involves (such as lifting, carrying, etc.). An accurate job task analysis, coupled with a functional capacity evaluation, allows a straightforward way to analyze how a person can return to work.
- Transition To Work: When there is a mismatch between what the job requires and what the individual can do, a physical therapist can come to work with the person and develop a plan to assist them in gradually and safely returning to the job.
The bottom line is allowing persons with disabilities to safely return to work is good medicine for the patient and is good for the employer’s bottom line!
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