SUMMARY: The return-to-work process can be stressful as you re-adjust to work routine, social interaction at work, and doing the tasks of your job. You may notice that you need more support from your doctor, therapist, family and friends during your return to work.

Here are some suggestions on how you and others can help during your return to work.

How a manager could support:

  • Keep you connected to what is going on at work by contacting you when you are off.
  • Meet with you before or during your return to work to discuss how to support your success.
  • Learn enough about your needs to support you and understand what will enhance your safe and successful return to work.
  • Discuss how you would like information about you to be shared with co-workers, especially about the changes in work that will affect them as you return to work. When co-workers have adequate information, they can then be supportive during your return to work.
  • Respect your wishes about what information is kept private and what is shared with others.
  • Discuss and provide any training, information or resources that you may need to get back up to speed.

For more information, please see: Supporting Return to Work Success.

How a union representative could support:

  • Help you to understand the options available to you in the return-to-work process.
  • Participate in the development of a return-to-work plan that will allow you to be successful.
  • Learn enough about your physical or emotional needs to support you and understand what will enhance your safe and successful return to work.
  • Educate members on the benefits and responsibilities associated with accommodating workers so that they can successfully return to work.
  • Respect your wishes about what information is kept private and what is shared with others.
  • Encourage an atmosphere of respect and support among workers.

How an occupational health physician or nurse could support:

  • Help develop the return-to-work plan in a way that supports your recovery and ongoing well-being at work.
  • Provide you with information about treatment options and community resources.
  • In some workplaces, they will review medical reports, ask questions to help move the process along, address health or safety concerns, and ensure that necessary procedures are completed.
  • Provide ongoing health education to all employees.
  • Provide a safe place when you are not well.
  • Keep all personal medical information confidential.

How a human resources professional could support:

  • Participate in the development of the return-to-work plan.
  • Provide information about extended health benefits, Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) services, disability benefits, sick days, and other information about benefits.
  • Provide information about workplace policies or procedures including policies for return-to-work and accommodation.
  • Help to address issues of workplace conflict or performance concerns.
  • Initiate training and education programs to build a psychologically healthy workplace.

How the claim examiner from the benefit provider could support:

  • Arrange for medical assessments with a specialist to get treatment recommendations, if appropriate.
  • Help to create the return-to-work plan through discussion with you and your manager.
  • Provide information and support to your and your employer throughout the return-to-work process.
  • Monitor your progress at work. Offer help and support to address issues as necessary.
  • Maintain contact with your employer about the expected return to work timeline.
  • Stay in contact with you throughout the return-to-work period to exchange necessary information about the claim process and to monitor your progress towards recovery.
  • Clarify for your employer any limitations or restrictions that should be accommodated or understood.
  • Maintain contact with your employer about the expected return to work timeline.
  • Make a referral to a vocational rehabilitation consultant who can assist with accessing effective treatment and/or the return-to-work planning where appropriate.

How a rehabilitation consultant could support:

  • Facilitate a successful recovery and return-to-work process.
  • Conduct home visits to gather information and discuss return-to-work planning.
  • Recommend additional treatment services.
  • Assist with communication among you, your workplace, and your claim examiner and health care providers.
  • Help to create the return-to-work plan through discussion with you and your manager. Communicate with your medical treatment providers in developing your return-to-work plan.
  • Provide information and support to you and your employer throughout the return-to-work process.
  • Monitor your progress at work. Offer help and support to address issues as necessary.

How your family doctor could support:

  • Provide effective treatment, and make appropriate referrals to other treatment providers or programs.
  • Complete the medical documentation necessary for your claim.
  • Provide appropriate information about your abilities and/or limitations as relevant to your work.
  • Continue to monitor your condition throughout the return-to-work and beyond.

How you could support yourself:

  • Take control and responsibility for your well-being. You may also need to pay closer attention to self-care.
  • Consider requesting accommodation.
  • Use coping strategies that help you feel well and stay well at work.
  • Collaborate with your manager and others involved in the return-to-work planning.
  • Think of the return-to-work process as another step in your recovery.
  • Practice strategies and ways of interacting that help you to be successful at your job.
  • Prepare for how you would like to answer questions from co-workers about why you were off work.

Talking to co-workers

Often when people don't understand behaviors, they make assumptions. Making assumptions may cause people to say things at work that you find hurtful, confusing or that make you feel pressured to respond. Generally, people don't intend to cause harm, but may not think carefully about how their words affect you, and may not be aware of your needs.

You can choose how you respond to comments or questions about how you are coping, why you may be doing things at work differently, reasons why you were away, or your current health status. Take time to consider how much information you want to share and how you want it shared.

Usually, co-workers respond better when given enough information to understand what is going on.

If you are returning to work, talk to your manager before you start back about how you want information handled.

Some possible responses to questions and comments


So what was wrong with you? Why were you off for so long?

I was off work because I was ill. It took me a long time to feel better, but I'm feeling much better now. I'm very glad to be back and to reconnect with you and with the team.

It must have been nice to have all that time off! I would love a vacation right now.

You sound pretty stressed. I wish that I had been on vacation. Actually I was working really hard to get better, so that I could return to work and be part of the team again.

We all bent over backwards to do your work while you were away.

I am grateful that you filled in for me while I was away. I was also working really hard while I was away to get better so that I could come back and do my part.

Why are you not back full time? Are you still sick?

My doctor has suggested that I return to work gradually, so that I can adjust slowly back to full days. I've been told that this is often the best way for people to return to work successfully.

Why are you only doing some of your tasks?

It is part of a plan put in place to accommodate me so that I gradually build up to my full workload.

Why are you only doing the easy tasks?

It is part of a plan put in place to accommodate me through a successful transition back to my regular duties.

While you were away, your replacement did a fabulous job. She cleaned up all your files. We're going to miss how organized she was!

I am feeling a bit vulnerable right now, and it's kind of hard for me to hear about how great my replacement was! I'm really looking forward to contributing to the team again.


This content was developed in collaboration with Mental Health Works and Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.