Returning to Work After Long-Term Disability

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Returning to work after being on long-term disability is a significant adjustment for anyone. If you are returning to a job that you held previously, you need to follow the return-to-work process set out by your employer that includes approval from any doctors or medical professionals who have treated you while on disability. If you are returning to the work force in general and do not have a job set up, you might need to consider a different position, further training or upgrading, or physical modifications to your job duties.

Consult with your doctor to obtain her written approval to return to work. You need to be able to prove to your employer that you are ready to go back to work. If you have been off work because of a mental health disorder such as depression, stress or anxiety, you might need written approval from a psychiatrist or psychologist who treated you while on disability.

Confer with your disability case manager or treatment coordinator. If your employer has approved your disability through its employee assistance program, then you probably have a disability case manager who has been overseeing your time off work. A disability case manager coordinates everyone involved with a disability client such as doctors, occupational health nurses, insurance company representatives, mental health professionals and physiotherapists. If your doctor has approved your return to work, the disability case manager will need to inform everyone involved of your return-to-work date and plan.

Consider any physical conditions you might have that could prevent you from returning to the duties you performed before your disability period. You and your doctor need to determine if you need to return to work with any physical restrictions that require a modification to your position. You might need an ergonomically designed computer keyboard or desk chair, for example, that your employer will need to arrange for your return.

Consider whether you can return full time or part time or on a gradual plan to return to work. One option is to return part time for three or four weeks, then start full time again. A gradual return to work might work well if you have been on long-term disability for a long time or if you are not sure if returning full time will overwhelm you physically or emotionally.

Practice your job duties at home before you return to work, if possible. If you typically do a lot of typing at work, try typing at home to see if you will be able to manage for several hours. If your job involves heavy lifting, try lifting heavy objects at home to see how well you manage physically. If your typical work responsibilities involves a lot of walking or standing, practice walking and standing for long periods at home. It will give you some idea of how well you will be able to manage once back on the job and also help get you into the required physical condition for your duties.


If you don't have a job to return to after a period of disability, visit a specialist at an employment agency for vocational testing, help with your job search and educational training opportunities. Consider working from home in a position such as data entry or medical transcriptionist if you are experiencing mobility issues. Some employment agencies are specifically geared to helping those with physical disabilities to find the right job.


Never return to work against a doctor's advice.