Developing a Return to Work Program

By Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba

Every year, more and more businesses are seeing the tremendous upside of implementing a Return to Work program in their workplace. 

There are a variety of reasons.

Return to Work is good business. It minimizes WCB claims costs, it can reduce the cost of training replacements and can help maintain productivity.

 For others, it’s complying with legal responsibilities. There’s legislation around re-employing injured workers that applies to organizations with more than 25 workers. They do it to remain compliant.

 More often than not, it’s moral. Employers feel a duty to their employees and are compelled to help them get back to work as quickly and safely as possible.

What many employers are also discovering is that a lot of workers see the value in it as well. 

Workers who take part in a Return to Work plan:

• recover more rapidly from their injuries

• maintain their job stability 

• get back on track sooner and with less uncertainty about the future.

Having a program in place that anticipates how to deal with a workplace injury — in a manner that makes workers feel appreciated — is an excellent way to increase engagement and remind them that they are a valued member of the team. 

“Business owners are starting to see the strategic advantage that a Return to Work program can provide in recruiting and retaining workers,” says Dan Holland, Vice President, Compensation Services, WCB Manitoba. “They are realizing that if they are safer and support Return to Work, they can attract and retain workers in the competitive labour market. At the same time, they are maintaining productivity, enhancing team dynamics, and improving workplace morale.”

Each workplace and worker is unique. Therefore, Return to Work programs must evolve and be customized to meet the specific needs of individual workers and workplaces. Key principles based on participation, communication, responsibility, and early intervention help ensure the program’s success. 

“Return to Work programs lead to a faster and better recovery, help ease financial worries and help the worker avoid isolation by reconnecting to social networks,” says Chris Poot, Manager, Return to Work Program Services, WCB Manitoba. “Medical professionals believe that Return to Work is a healthy and invaluable part of an injured worker’s recovery as there is substantial evidence to support the positive link between work and physical, mental and social health.” 

An effective Return to Work program is one that is well-designed, communicated clearly and understood by everyone in the company. It must be well-implemented, maintained and kept current. It involves the employer, injured worker, healthcare provider and the WCB. 

For Holland, the key is to have all four parties willing to do what it takes to return the injured worker to meaningful work. 

“When all of the players are on the same page and the employer knows how to implement a safe and effective Return to Work, the process happens seamlessly,” he says. “That’s the goal and it’s definitely possible.”

Setting up a Return to Work Program

Consider the following tips for creating a successful Return to Work program:

• Present the Return to Work process as part of your company’s benefits package and explain that you support helping workers with a timely return to health and work.

• Identify some Return to Work transitional work opportunities before they are needed.

• Consider job modification before injured workers return to their former jobs.

• Allow recovering workers to ease into the full work routine with graduated hours or work responsibilities.

• Keep in touch with recovering workers and maintain a positive attitude toward their Return to Work.

• Focus on what the workers can do; not what they cannot do.

• Have employees help to identify alternate and productive work.

• Ask for help from your WCB case worker if you need assistance. 

Return to Work Resources

Manitoba – WCB Manitoba offers a free one-day workshop, called Return to Work Basics, that helps employers create or enhance a return to work program to ensure injured workers can return to meaningful work. To learn more and register, visit, or call 204.954.6161 or 1.855.954.4321, extension 3.

Saskatchewan – WorkSafe Saskatchewan offers resources to help ensure successful return to work after injury or illness. Training is available to teach supervisors and business owners how to form committees, create policies, and plan procedures to facilitate a return-to-work program. Visit or call 1.800.667.7590.

Alberta – Employers and employees in Alberta can access resources, training, and other information from WCB Alberta. Visit or call 1.866.922.9221 to learn more about the services available.