What is your protocol for employees returning to work after an injury?

It may sound alarming but it’s reality that almost all employees of a company will, at some point in their career, either be injured or contract an illness of some kind. The way their employer reacts to and handles that leave of absence, as well as their return to work, will speak volumes. Studies have shown that employees feel more valued and want to work harder when they know their leader is in their corner and wants them back as soon as possible.

Establishing a solid, realistic and fair return-to-work program is extremely important for business owners. First and foremost, there are some legal considerations to comply with. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have guidelines in place to protect employees from losing their job if they are unable to perform, given their disability or injury. These, along with state non-discrimination laws, require that employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees returning to work but unable to perform at the same level they did prior to their injury or illness. Two important things for business owners to consider here are:

1. An employer cannot refuse the employee’s return to work unless they pose as a “direct threatâ€.
2. The fact that an injury or illness occurred does not necessarily mean they can no longer do their job, assuming they are not a “’direct threatâ€.

Deeming an employee able to return to work, either in their pre-injury/illness capacity or a different position, may fall on the employer’s own discretion, which can be very difficult. The most commonly advised strategy for business owners in this position is to consult with the physician releasing the employee to work, get legal guidance if it’s questionable, and have a plan in writing that is agreed upon with the employee. The goal is to bring the employee back in to the work force safely and in a way that is productive for themselves, the rest of the team and the company as a whole.
Developing a return-to-work program that will apply to any position is the key here. It will keep things organized, efficient and consistent. Here are a few tips in creating a return-to-work plan:

• Define which employees or positions this program applies to
• Document the job duties of each position in the company
• Reporting process — to whom, frequency of reporting, and if advance notification is needed
• Medical evaluation documentation and use of a medical provider process
• How physical limitations will be assessed for reasonable accommodations
• Process for limited duty or transitional assignments to bring employees back sooner than later
• Consequences if an employee refuses to participate in the return-to-work program

Good and open communication throughout will undoubtedly make this program a success. Don’t forget the details though… it’s more than just checking in:

• Date of injury/initial clinic visit
• Physician status reports and follow-up visits
• Contact between employee and manager or HR (phone calls, emails, etc.)
• Interactive process to determine potential reasonable accommodations
• Written transitional duty offer letter
• Acceptance/refusal of or modified transitional duty agreement

A great way to keep all of this together and organized is in a return-to-work kit or section of your employee handbook. Nothing shows more support from an employer than being there for your team in their time of need and helping them get back on their feet to be an asset to the company.

How to show appreciation to your staff when you can’t have a party

As 2020 comes to an end, we can probably all agree that it’s time to put a bow on this year and move forward. Finishing out strong with the holidays sounds great but given the pandemic situation and social restraints, those fun and festive holidays will look much different this go round.

While year-end holiday parties are fun and social gatherings, many business owners also see this as an opportunity to celebrate the successes of the past year and show appreciation to the team that made it all possible. Often times, holiday parties turn into the time that employees are given a bonus, a raise, a gift, something in return for their hard work and commitment to their employer.

So if this year doesn’t allow for (or frowns upon) said type of party, what other ways can employees be shown how much they are valued, appreciated and celebrated? Here are a few ideas:

• Virtual get-togethers – we’ve all heard of “Zoom fatigue†and yes, it might be a real thing. However, a virtual holiday party doesn’t just have to be a bunch of small faces on the screen with awkward silence, a stuffy agenda, or difficulties trying to talk over each other. That doesn’t sound fun at all, right? But you can get creative with virtual get-togethers such as a cooking class, a wine tasting, trivia, games, ugly sweater contest, ornament crafting or a white elephant exchange by drawing of numbers.

• Gifts – everyone likes gifts. Even if they say they don’t. They do. Of course you can resort to a gift card that will please everyone but that also feels impersonal… so 2020, right? Although functional and practical, it’s kind of the easy way out. Think along the lines of ear buds given all the Zoom meetings lately, new running shoes for the guy that’s taken up more exercise during the quarantine, a weekend getaway for the person that’s put in the most hours to recharge, or a massage for the working but also stay-at-home-virtual-school-teacher mom.

• Culinary treats – A cake, a ham, a nice bottle of wine… these are all things that most anyone would enjoy but also be able to share and may even lighten the load of their grocery list for the holidays.

Regardless of what you decide, the gesture will be appreciated and it’s understood that this is best we can do at this point in time. Yes, we will miss the social aspect of the party and it won’t feel quite as festive but there’s still a lot to celebrate for the deck we were handed in 2020. For companies that are still surviving, and especially those fortunate enough to be thriving, there’s a lot to be thankful for. And we can look forward to one heck of a holiday party in 2021!

Does the new Department of Labor rule apply to your business?

The Department of Labor recently proposed a new rule that they feel will better classify workers and it is something employers should be paying close attention to.

If this rule were to pass, it would adopt a new “economic reality†test to determine what employees should be considered independent contractors and of course, which ones should not. The plan details that contractors should be in business for themselves rather than having any economic dependency on the employer they are performing work for.

There are two main factors in determining employment status:
• The nature and degree of the employer’s control over work being performed
• The worker’s potential profit and/or loss based on personal investment
If those are in question, there are additional considerations that may play a part such as the amount of skill required or utilized in the work, how permanent or long term the working relationship is, and if the work in question is integrated in a larger unit of production.

The goal of this rule is to provide clarity and consistency to both employers and employees as to who qualifies as an employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act and those, respectfully, that choose to go the entrepreneurial route of being an independent contractor.

This proposal is up for lots of discussion throughout the official comment period but should be finalized by the end of 2020.