Return to Work or Stay at Work and Accommodations

August 05, 2011

Return to Work (RTW) and Stay at Work (SAW) programs are part of a business’ strategy to retain valued employees and to enhance the productivity of its workforce. “The goal of a return-to-work program, sometimes called a transitional duty program, is to make job changes or provide job accommodations that return individuals to work who are absent for workers’ compensation or disability-related reasons.”[1]

As with workplace accommodation programs, a RTW program should have clear written policies articulating each party’s responsibilities. Accurate job descriptions including the physical demands of particular essential functions should also be developed. This helps everyone in the process (e.g., doctors, rehabilitation staff, and accommodation specialists) understand the job requirements. A good understanding of the job demands and the employee’s limitations and abilities is the starting point for determining if effective job accommodations will enable the employee to return to or stay at work while still recovering from injury. Effective job accommodations insure that the employee returns to work as soon as possible without risk to the employee or employer.

Of the employers who called JAN for technical assistance, most (82%) were doing so to retain a current employee.[2] Thus, most of JAN’s publications contain accommodation solutions that could be generalized to a RTW or SAW situation. JAN also offers a number of examples specific to RTW.

For instance:

Situation – A warehouse employee was transitioning back to work with lifting restrictions after being injured by falling boxes of product.

Accommodation Solutions:

  • Provide overhead structure for lifting devices;
  • Place frequently used tools and supplies at or near waist height;
  • Provide low task chairs, stand/lean stools, and anti-fatigue mats;
  • Provide compact lifting devices to push and pull supplies and tools from storage;
  • Make wheelchairs, scooters, industrial tricycles, or golf carts available; and
  • Provide aerial lifts, rolling safety ladders, and work platforms.

The full publication, Fact Sheet Series: Job Accommodations for Return to Work is available for download. If you need additional guidance in identifying a device, or need information on where to buy the device, please call one of JAN’s Consultants.

Below are resources to learn more about developing your company’s RTW or SAW program:

– Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, Co-Director, The Job Accommodation Network (

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