Your Return-to-Work Program

A return-to-work program is a plan that helps a worker who has been injured on the job come back to work as soon as it is safe to do so. Safe, healthy work can often be part of recovery from a workplace injury and is often part of a return-to-work program.   

A successful return-to-work program takes a team effort. When injury happens, each partner on the team must:

  • share the same goal of supporting the worker return to work in a safe and timely manner
  • understand their role and responsibility in making that happen

The information below will help you create a return-to-work program that works for your workplace. 

Prevent the Injury

When you prevent an injury from happening in your workplace, you also prevent the human suffering, financial loss and workplace disruption that go along with that injury.

Remember: The best return-to-work plan is one you never have to use.

Workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility. Preventing injuries and keeping workers safe depends on two important factors:

  • An active safety program that identifies and controls hazards in your workplace. 
  • Workers armed with the knowledge to work safely, recognize hazards, and report them immediately to a supervisor or the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

For more information on developing a health and safety program for your workplace, check out tips to build a safety plan or LSI’s safety manual for businesses.

Partners and Responsibilities

Creating a successful return-to-work program requires a team effort. Strong partnerships must be at the heart of the program, and each partner must have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities. When all partners work together and share their knowledge and expertise, the return-to-work program will run smoothly and efficiently.

A return-to-work team includes:

  • the employer (or RTW Coordinator, OHS Manager, HR Manager)
  • the person injured at work
  • the WCB case worker(s) and case management team 
  • the health-care provider(s)
  • union representatives (if applicable)

Each return-to-work partner, including you, should be aware of their workplace safety and return-to-work roles and responsibilities. 

Establish Direct Access with a WCB-approved Health-care Service Provider

It’s a good idea to establish a relationship with a WCB-approved health-care service provider before injury happens. These providers include physiotherapists, chiropractors, psychologists, occupational therapists, and more.

You can have your service provider visit your workplace so they can understand the types of jobs your workers perform. This allows them to understand the functional job tasks and the physical demands for positions in your organization. If you have job site analysis for your positions, it is helpful to provide them to the service providers for a clear understanding of the pre-injury strength goal for each position. 

 Having this information helps them:

  • Identify risks that could lead to injury and could be addressed in your safety program.
  • Anticipate treatment in the case of injury.
  • Match the worker’s abilities to other job tasks as part of transitional work when considering returning to work. 

These service providers will also often see a worker within 48 hours after an injury with no need for the worker to see their own family physician for a referral first. Most importantly, having awareness that an employer has a return-to-work program allows for a safe and timely return to work to happen.

List of WCB-approved health-care service providers.

Appoint a Return-to-Work Coordinator or Committee

If your workplace is large enough to have a human resources (HR) department or a Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (JOHSC), they can take on the main responsibility for your return-to-work program.

If your workplace is smaller, the owner or a senior member of staff can take it on.

Either way, the return-to-work coordinator or committee will

  • Create your workplace’s return-to-work policy.
  • Promote the policy and program to make sure everyone in the workplace is aware of what to do when injury happens.
  • Coordinate with all the return-to-work partners when a worker is injured.
  • Monitor the status of all claims through MyAccount.

Your return-to-work coordinator/committee should understand the challenges workers who are injured face, as well as the important role work can play in injury recovery.

Create a Return-to-Work Policy

Your return-to-work policy is a statement, in writing, that clearly outlines how management, unions or worker representatives, and workers are committed to their responsibilities under the program. It can be as short as one paragraph or as long as needed. It should be signed by the most senior person in your organization.

Below is a sample policy you can use to model your own.

Sample Return-to-Work Policy

[Organization name] supports a workplace culture committed to the health and well-being of all employees. [Organization name] commits to preventing workplace injuries and illnesses through maintaining a safe and healthy work environment that protects psychological health and safety and physical safety of all employees. 

If a worker experiences an injury or illness, [Organization name] commits to facilitate their return to work in a safe and timely manner.  

Safe and timely return to work at [Organization name], which includes safe recovery at work wherever possible, is guided by this policy, the return-to-work procedures, and the organization’s return-to-work program. The return-to-work program provides opportunities for any employee of [Organization name], who has been injured or became ill either on or off work, to remain at work or return to work when it is safe physically and psychologically to do so at a functional capacity. 

[Organization Name] will work in collaboration with the employee (and union representative, if applicable) to identify suitable work and develop an individualized return-to-work plan that includes transitional work or alternative work based on functional/cognitive abilities information provided from health care providers and WCB Nova Scotia.  The employee is also expected to actively participate in the process. This policy applies to all employees who are unable to perform part or all of their regular work as a result of injury or illness.


Senior management signature





Return-to-work procedures standardize a workplace’s return-to-work approach by outlining clear and easy-to follow steps for helping a worker get back to their job as soon as it is safe to do so.

Like the workplace’s return-to-work policy, all workers should be familiar with the procedures to ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, as well as knows what to expect in the event of an injury. They should be part of the orientation program for new workers, and existing workers should be trained on the procedures, signing off to show they know and understand what will happen if a workplace injury occurs.

Not sure where start?

Check out these sample questions to help guide you in the development of procedures that work for your workplace. 

Plan Transitional Work

When injury happens, the goal is to get the worker back to the way they were before injury as quickly and safely as possible. The longer a worker is off work, the less likely they are to return.

Transitional work plays an important role in this. Safe, healthy work can be part of recovery. 

Transitional work:

  • Can be temporary changes or temporary accommodations to a workers’ job tasks so the worker can safely perform and transition back to their pre-injury job.
  • Must be meaningful, productive, and safe.
  • Should be a discussion between the worker and the health-care provider as part of the treatment plan.
  • Focuses on what the worker can do, not what they can’t.

General questions of wages and salary around transitional work should be addressed and documented in your return-to-work program – not decided on a case-by-case basis.

Promote your Program

Now that you’ve got all the pieces in place, it’s time to promote it across your organization. A program will work only if everyone knows about it and understands it. 

Workplaces with established and well-communicated return-to-work programs are better positioned when an injury happens, since staff already know what to expect when a co-worker is injured. 

Once your program is ready, share it with everyone in your workplace so they will:

  • Understand that workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Know how to work safely.
  • Be able to recognize hazards.
  • Know who to report hazards to.

Ways to get the word out:

  • Face-to-face meetings - hold a staff meeting to explain the program to everyone.
  • Make it part of your new-hire package.
  • Promote it in your internal communications, such as newsletters, bulletin boards, memos, Intranet, and email.
  • Have everyone in your workplace sign two copies of the policy and process. Give them one for their own records and keep the other in their employee file.  
  • Talk about the importance of return to work as often as possible. Explain the human and financial cost of workplace injury so workers understand the benefits of return to work.
  • Demonstrate that return to work is safe for workers. Celebrate successes.
  • Share your good experiences and best practices with other organizations and your association. 
  • Foster a supportive workplace culture.

Measuring your Program's Results

Evaluation is an important part of any return-to-work program. Having a set of measures in place and targets for each will help you see what parts of your program are working, and which ones can be improved. 

This information should be collected and updated monthly by your workplace’s return-to-work coordinator or committee and reported to your senior management team and joint occupational health and safety committee (if you have one).

What should you measure?

Your return-to-work program is unique to your workplace, and the way you evaluate it will be, too.

Here are some suggestions for factors you could measure:

  • Number of jobs with formal physical demand descriptions completed.
  • Number of jobs that have potential transitional work identified.
  • Number of workers on a return-to-work plan, by department, by month.
  • Total number of days/hours worked on a return-to-work plan, by department, by month.
  • Number of ill/injured employees for whom transitional work could not be found, by department, by month (and why).
  • Number of employees who returned to full pre-injury work after participating in a return-to-work plan and results of feedback surveys of those who participated.
  • Costs associated with hiring temporary replacements or lost productivity when a worker did not return on a return-to-work plan, by department, by month.
  • Number of case conferences attended by supervisor, by department, by month.
  • Total cost of having workers off work (no return-to-work plan/transitional work), by department, by month.
  • Claims costs avoided by having workers participate in a return-to-work program, by department, by month.

How to use your results

Analyze your results to see where you are having success, where you could be saving, and where you have gaps in your return-to-work program. You may want to share your results with all your workers, when possible, to demonstrate the success of the program.

Keep in mind, the benefits of a return-to-work plan go beyond immediate dollars and cents and include worker and workplace morale and turnover.

Monitor your claims

For employers, knowing your organization’s past and present injury claim information will allow you to monitor outstanding claims, evaluate your injury prevention and return-to-work progress and track the costs associated with workplace injury.

All this claim information is available at your fingertips through MyAccount.

If you're an employer and are not registered for MyAccount, you can call the WCB (toll free) at 1-877-211-9267 to request your workplace’s past and present injury claim information.