When an injured employee’s physician says the employee cannot return to his regular position, agency specialists often must be creative to bring that employee back to work. There’s always work to do, whether it’s a smaller aspect of his original position or some other light or limited duty.
Remember, it is in the best interest of the employee and the federal agency to find some limited duty assignment that meets the restrictions stipulated by the treating physician.
For the employee, it aids in the healing process. Returning to some kind of work not only helps the employee feel valued, but it keeps him in touch with what is going on in the agency, can aid in returning him to his regular job sooner, and helps him regain financial security. In addition, employees in light or limited duty positions may have an opportunity to obtain new knowledge, skills or abilities.
Besides the benefits for the employee, return to work strategies help the agency meet two of the President’s Safety, Health and Return-to- Employment (SHARE) Initiative goals: reducing Total Lost Day Case Rates by at least 3 percent and Reducing Lost Production Days by at least 1 percent.
Depending on the seriousness of the injury and whether the disability is temporary or permanent, supervisors in the Forest Service are encouraged to actively locate alternative work.
We first have the supervisor look in the immediate area of the employee’s position to see if there are still some aspects of the position that can be performed within the medical limitations. If the answer is no, we then ask the supervisor to contact other staff within the office to see if there is work in other departments. Then we bump it up to neighboring Districts or Forests. Ninety-nine percent of the time, light duty work is located in or near the same office.
Many times supervisors will state that they have no light duty work available. However, after a brief discussion and brainstorming session, they quickly find alternative work. They are reminded that the employee will be getting paid anyway either by Continuation of Pay (COP) or by compensation for wage loss, and that as federal workers we are obligated to the taxpayers (including us) to get the best bang for our bucks.
Keep in mind that when the physician’s report indicates that the employee is no longer totally disabled, the employee is required to accept any reasonable offer. Such an offer may be made by telephone but must be confirmed in writing within 48 hours to be valid. The offer should include a description of the duties and requirements of the offered position.
If the employee refuses to accept the work offered, COP should be terminated as of the date of the refusal or after five workdays from the date of the offer, whichever is earlier. OWCP makes the final determination of entitlement based on the medical reports and the duties of the offered position and issues a formal decision concerning payment of COP.