Returning to work after an injury: The road to recovery

Returning to work safely while recovering from an injury requires collaboration between the worker and the employer. 

Shipper/receiver Gilda Adamson (left) and Loretta Fulton, owner of ALCA Distribution in Surrey, talk about Gilda's recovery from a shoulder injury

Photo credit: © WorkSafeBC (Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C.), used with permission

By Marnie Douglas

If you are injured at work, should you stop working until you recover? Not necessarily.

Depending on the injury, a worker can benefit from remaining at work and taking on modified or alternative duties as needed. When workers remain active and do what they can at work, it is generally good for their recovery — and we see that in Gilda’s remarkable journey.

Alternative duties help workers stay connected

Gilda Adamson, a warehouse worker at ALCA Distribution in Surrey, sustained a shoulder injury that affected her ability to do her job. But she was able to successfully recover while performing modified work duties.

In collaboration with her employer, Gilda was able to identify alternative duties that would keep her connected and contributing to the small company and tight-knit 11-person team. Gilda worked with her partner on the floor to mitigate the physical demands of her job — like unloading heavy shipping containers — and find other meaningful duties to help reduce workflow interruptions. This included data entry, operating a forklift, and picking small items.

Offering accommodations that focus on abilities to recover faster

Gilda’s modified duties, in addition to her motivation to heal, helped her return to her full-time regular duties months quicker than expected. This led me to find out more about employer accommodations to find suitable work for injured workers — accommodations that do not cause harm or slow recovery.

All of this timely, as important changes took effect on January 1, 2024 that formalized legal responsibilities for returning to work: the duty to cooperate and the duty to maintain employment. These changes and to support workers and employers following a workplace injury. Under the revisions (also known as Bill 41), employers and workers are required to cooperate by staying in touch, identifying alternate duties for the injured worker, and providing WorkSafeBC with the information required to support return-to-work efforts.

Chris Girling, senior manager in Return-to-Work Services at WorkSafeBC, highlighted in an employer information session that there’s usually not a great cost to an employer to provide alternate duties. More than 50% of accommodations cost nothing, and 80% cost less than $500.

In addition to the physical and mental benefits for workers that working during recovery offer, Chris also noted the benefits for employers of having workers stay on the job as they recover. These include retaining skilled workers and reducing added burden to co-workers — as was demonstrated with Gilda and her colleague working together to split the work.

I also wondered what suitable work means. The questions and answers document from the information session notes that suitable work is work that is safe, productive, and consistent with the worker’s functional abilities and skills. Tai McLavy, Gilda’s case manager at WorkSafeBC, reinforced that “accommodations don’t necessarily mean a full re-do of work. Sometimes it’s finding practical and creative solutions within a worker’s capability, providing meaningful opportunities to contribute while staying connected to the workplace.”

Find out more

A successful return-to-work journey is the goal for any worker injured on the job. Learn more about the new legal responsibilities and how best to support return-to-work requirements with the information and resources on WorkSafeBC’s website: Return to work.

You can also read the full story of Gilda’s remarkable journey and our previous return-to-work blog post.
Stay tuned for more blog posts focusing on return-to-work and how recovering at work benefits everyone in the workplace.

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