Accommodating Your Needs

You are unable to do your regular job due to an illness or injury. Now your doctor is indicating that you are able to return to work. If your doctor has not placed any restrictions on your return to work, you will hopefully be resuming regular occupation. However, your doctor may indicate that you have restrictions that would prevent a return to all the duties of your regular job as you performed them before. What do you do now?!

You need to start by getting a very specific list of your restrictions from your doctor to share with your employer. Encourage your doctor to describe your restrictions as specifically as possible without stating your diagnosis. For example, what does "light typing" mean? Your employer won't know either! To avoid re-injury, you would want this to be described very specifically, such as "no continuous typing for more than 5 minutes, 3 times per hour." You will also want to know how long these restrictions will be in place -- are they permanent or temporary? If temporary, then how long? This will help your employer to work on job accommodations for you with a greater sense of confidence.

The next step is to meet with your employer to discuss your interest in returning to work.

Talking to your employer

You and your employer should jointly discuss alternate ways of performing your job duties to arrive at a workable solution. It is important to realize that this can be as new of an experience to your employer as it is to you. There are no instant solutions or magic answers. Partnering, communicating, and collaborating with your employer is key to the success of the job accommodation.

A free service of the federal government, JAN — the Job Accommodation Network — offers free guidance and assistance in making job accommodation recommendations. Aetna and other disability insurance carriers offer vocational rehabilitation services to qualified disability benefit recipients and they can be a huge help in this transitional process. The State Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation also offer a similar service, and many employers consider hiring private vocational rehab counselors to help in this process.

Some examples of job accommodations:

  • Modified job duties
  • Partial work hours on a temporary basis (or permanent, if necessary and feasible)
  • Job sharing: giving responsibilities of your job that you cannot perform to another employee, and taking on some of their responsibilities in exchange
  • Transitional job – short termed job that better meets your restrictions during a period of your recovery to a more consistent level of functioning
  • Making existing facilities accessible (i.e. ramps) or moving you to a different but equivalent location
  • Modifying equipment or acquiring new equipment
  • Providing qualified readers for visually impaired or interpreters for hearing impaired
  • Permanent reassignment to a vacant position that better fits your restrictions.

Put simply, job accommodations are creative solutions to getting the job done satisfactorily and within expected time frames. There are no magic answers and very often the answers are simple. Open communication with your employer is key to reaching your mutual goals.

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