Return to Work: Having the Right Plan in Place For Success


Assisting an employee through the return to work process after a leave of absence for a mental illness is a delicate and challenging job. How much information to share, what accommodations need to be made, who needs to be involved in the planned return, and how coworkers react are just a few of the challenges. Having a solid plan in place for the return to work (RTW) process is a valuable tool for any work environment.

The Institute for Work and Health, a Canadian based not-for-profit organization published an evidence-informed guide regarding supporting people with depression to return to the workplace. This guide could easily be used and adapted to individual work place processes and is available for that purpose. Having a process that is established and easily put into place will assist everyone in the return to work for that employee.

Below, we’ve highlighted some important parts of the guide that can be used and adapted as you help manage individuals through the return to work process.

The RTW plan should involve the worker, the union (if applicable), the manager, and the HR person. The RTW process will have a higher success rate if genuine and caring communication is the norm when the worker goes off work - caring, respectful check-ins and messages of support are very impactful.

Prior to the return, a meeting should be scheduled to discuss and implement the plan. Holding a pre-RTW meeting to develop and outline a return-to-work plan that everyone is comfortable with should involve the worker, direct manager/supervisor, HR staff, and any other involved parties such as a union representative (if applicable) or a disability case manager.

Several steps must be considered for the RTW plan to be successful:


  1. The consideration of accommodation needs and job duties, as well as creative ways to resolve conflicts.
  2. Collaboratively decide on the frequency for check-ins well into the future and determining responsibilities.
  3. The RTW process may not be linear, there will be ups and downs and identifying changing circumstances and discussing these to find new solutions as required will be important, along with a process of review at specific times, as well as when problems arise.
  4. Coworkers may be uncomfortable with some of the accommodations that need to be made and focus should be given to the privacy of the worker, as well as the comfort of the co-workers.
  5. Inflexible RTW’s are less successful than individualized and gradual RTW plans and ongoing communication is critical for the process to work. The RTW must be flexible and consider changes in the situation


As the demands for systemized policies to assist workers in returning to work increase, this guide could be very useful for managers looking to institute such policies.

More information can be viewed at: 

The Institute for Work and Health: Return to Work Resource Guide 
At AAACEUs, we offer several courses on RTW. If you wish to learn more, we encourage you to take a look at the following courses:
Our courses are pre-approved by CCM, CRC, CDMS, CCAPP, NAADAC, MCBAP, CLCP, CVRP, RRP, CNLCP, RNs, and many more.