Return to Work Policy

Policy number: CS-1302-2013
Policy title: Return to Work - Occupational & Non-Occupational Absences due to Medical Reasons Policy
Policy owner: Chief Human Resources Officer
Effective date: March 3, 2013

Last Revised: March 28, 2024

On this page:

  1. Purpose
  2. Application and Scope
  3. Definitions
  4. Principles
  5. Accountability and Compliance
  6. Roles and Responsibilities
  7. Return to Work Process
  8. Training and Policy Communication
  9. Compliance
  10. Mediation – Dispute Resolution
  11. Confidentiality Statement
  12. Policy Revision Date
  13. Attachments
  14. Specific Links

1. Purpose

Mohawk College is committed to providing a safe, healthy work culture for all employees. The College is committed to providing a cooperative and proactive environment to assist and support those employees who are unable to fully perform their job responsibilities as a result of an occupational or non-occupational injury, disability or illness. Mohawk College is committed to ensure each situation is assessed on its own merit, in a proactive, fair and consistent manner. 

This Policy is written with the intention of promoting a fair, transparent and just process that is respectful of each employee’s individual health situation and rights while also administering the business of the College in a responsible manner.  The purpose of this Policy is to ensure effective, proactive and consistent management of cases relating to return to work (RTW). This can consist of short or long‑term disability (occupational or non-occupational), in addition to requests for accommodations related to medical reasons. 

The specific objectives of this Policy are: 

  1. To ensure that all individuals involved in the Return to Work are treated with dignity and respect;
  2. To confirm the College’s commitment to providing appropriate support and assistance to employees over the course of the employee’s recovery, and their safe and timely return to meaningful work; 
  3. To develop a RTW management framework through which individual Return to Work cases are managed; 
  4. To outline a process to accommodate employees who have medical restrictions and limitations with respect to their Return-to-Work arrangements; 
  5. To promote the administration of Return-to-Work process in a fair and supportive manner; and 
  6. To fulfil the requirements of applicable policies and procedures, collective agreements and relevant legislation, including but not limited to the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario. 

2. Application and Scope

This Policy applies to all College employees who are absent from work as a result of an occupational or non-occupational illness or injury, and/or who may require workplace accommodations as a result.    Employees include full-time and partial-load employees covered by the Academic Employees collective agreement, full-time and part-time support staff covered by their respective Support Staff collective agreements, and non-unionized and administrative staff. Early intervention, full participation and collaboration of the workplace parties is essential to ensure the success of RTW efforts and the overall Policy.

3. Definitions

“Accommodation” is any change, modification, adaptation or adjustment to the job duties or the workplace, to enable an employee to perform the essential duties of a job in a healthy and safe manner.  This includes, but is not limited to, reduced hours, reduced productivity requirements, provision of assistive devices, etc. In this document, “reasonable accommodation” and “accommodation” are used interchangeably.

“Disability” is any mental or physical condition that makes it harder for people to do certain activities and fully participate.  The Ontario Human Rights Code defines disability as: 

  1. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device, 
  2. a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability, 
  3. a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language, 
  4. a mental disorder, or (e) an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997. 

“Elimination period” as it relates to disability insurance claims, the elimination period is the length of time between the beginning of a disability and the time an employee becomes eligible to receive benefits. Sometimes the term "waiting period" or "reference period" are used.

“Functional Abilities Evaluation (FAE)” is an objective, third party evaluation of an employee’s ability to complete the activities that simulate the physical demands at work, such as lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, bending, squatting, standing, sitting, reaching, grasping, etc.  If required, this evaluation will be arranged and paid for by the College, or insurance provider to determine the cause, difficulty, abilities, restrictions and limitation levels of the individual.

“Independent Medical Evaluation (IME)” is an objective, third party assessment of an employee’s current medical status.  If required, an IME is arranged and paid for by the College or the insurance provider to determine the cause, severity, abilities, restrictions and limitations of the individual as it relates to the essential duties of the job.

“Long-Term Disability (LTD)” is a benefit that provides partial income replacement when an employee is considered totally disabled because of bodily injury, sickness or disease.  The employee is unable to perform any of their duties relating to their regular work during: 

  • The elimination period 
  • The time up to and including 24 months after the elimination period, and/or
  • The months after the 24 months have passed with the following restrictions: If the employee is completely and continuously prevented from engaging in any occupation or employment for wage or profit for which they are reasonably qualified by education, training or experience and have already received their 24 Monthly Indemnity payments. 

Wage or profit may be defined as the ability to earn income equal to the Monthly Indemnity payment level at another occupation.

“Medical Information” is information includes observable physical findings, self-reported symptoms, clinical notes, laboratory/testing results and/or measurable clinical signs confirmed by a physician with expertise in the area of the disease/condition of the employee. Proper documentation must be provided of any findings, regardless if they are positive and negative. Medical diagnosis is not based on self-reported symptoms. 

“Medical Restrictions and Limitations” refer to physical and/or mental activity restrictions that prevent an employee from performing their duties. These activities should be avoided, due to the employee's health status, medical treatment, or to prevent their symptoms from worsening.  To support the RTW process, an employee will provide the College with medical documentation that outlines their restrictions and/or limitations as completed by their physician or health care provider.   

 “Modified or Transitional Duties” is an accommodation that may include alternate work, tasks, functions, or a combination of these duties that an employee is able safely perform.

These duties may or may not normally have been performed by that employee prior to the occupational or non-occupational illness or injury. 

Examples of modified or transitional duties include but are not limited to: 

  • Reduction in hours worked 
  • Change in shift or rotation 
  • Reduction in the volume of work 
  • Modification to regular duties 
  • Placement in a different position 
  • Work hardening (gradual reintroduction of work tasks) 
  • Job sharing/splitting 
  • Placement in a different location 

The assignment of modified work depends on the employee’s functional abilities and if the employee can physically, psychologically and vocationally perform the tasks without aggravating the injury or illness and/or delaying recovery.

“Non-Occupational Injury/Illness” is an injury, disability or illness that is not caused by work duties, activities, exposures, and/or other workplace factors.

"Occupational or Workplace Injury/Illness" is an injury or illness that is caused by workplace duties, activities, exposures and/or other workplace factors.

“Productive Work” is meaningful work that is required as part of the College’s normal operations. 

“Reasonable Accommodation” is a personalized process which involves the implementation of adapted or temporary duties to remove or reduce potential barriers. This process allows employees to participate in the workplace regardless of injury or disability, in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.   A reasonable accommodation also does not create undue hardship for the organization, i.e., accommodations do not put the health and safety of employees at risk, and their costs are affordable to the College.  In this policy, “reasonable accommodation” and “accommodation” are used interchangeably. 

“Return to Work (RTW)” is the process of returning to work following a period of disability related to an occupational or non-occupational injury, disability, or illness. The primary goal is to return the employee to work that is both suitable and available.  Suitable work is safe, productive, and consistent with the employee’s working abilities.  This process begins at the time of the injury or awareness of the medical condition or illness and continues through the recovery or impairment period.  Ideally, the employee will return to their role they had before their disability, with accommodations if required.  At times, it may be necessary to explore temporary alternate suitable work while the employee recovers.

“Return to Work (RTW)/Accommodation Plan” is a formal written document detailing a temporary or permanent plan which includes: start date, end date, restrictions, limitations, details of job duty, hours of work or workplace modifications.  An RTW/Accommodation Plan is prepared by the Employee Abilities Coordinator , with objective functional abilities and input from the workplace parties.

“Safe” refers to work that does not cause a health or safety risk to the employee (e.g., should not cause re-injury or a new injury), to co-workers, or to third parties.

“Short-Term Disability (STD) is a self-insured benefit that provides eligible employees with short-term income protection for a maximum of 130 days within a 12-month period when objective medical documentation supports the inability to work. This is also referred to as “sick time”. 

“Suitable Work” refers to job duties that are meaningful and consistent with employees' functional capabilities.  It refers to ensuring the employee is working in a location that is safe.  To the best of the college’s ability, the worker’s pre-injury earnings will also remain the same.

“Total Disability” means a person is reasonably unable to work. 

According to the Supreme Court of Canada, totally disabled “does not mean absolute physical inability to transact any kind of business pertaining to one's occupation, but rather that there is a total disability if the insured's injuries are such that common care and prudence require him to desist from his business or occupation in order to effectuate a cure; hence, if the condition of the insured is such that in order to effect a cure or prolongation of life, common care and prudence will require that he cease work, he is totally disabled within the meaning of health or accident insurance policies”.

A total disability is a medical impairment/restriction due to a non-occupational illness or injury which prevents the employee from performing the essential duties of his/her own job or an available alternative job. Note that the medical impairment must be supported by objective medical evidence. 

“Workplace Parties” include the employee, manager/supervisor, Employee Abilities Coordinator, Human Resources Strategic Partner, Union or Employee Representative. 

4. Principles

As a college community, we try to be equitable, and inclusive in all our interactions, practices and processes. Mohawk College is committed to upholding college members’ sense of belonging knowing this is integral to our collective working experience and well-being. Mohawk College is committed to provide accommodations to employees to fulfil the requirements of the Human Rights Code. The College values individual differences, respects individual needs, supports diversity and fairness in our treatment of all individuals.  All parties are expected to act in good faith, cooperate and provide input to ensure a successful outcome. 

5. Accountability and Compliance

5.1 Accountability Framework

This policy impacts many of our college employees therefore it underwent consultation with various key college members, including support staff and faculty local OPSEU representatives, before being approved by the Senior Leadership Team. 

5.2 Compliance

The College is committed to maintaining an inclusive workplace, and to provide support for its members as required under the applicable policies and procedures, benefit plans, collective agreements and all relevant legislation such as:  The Ontario Human Rights Code, The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the Occupational Health & Safety Act, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

6. Roles and Responsibilities

6.1 Employees

  • When absent from work due to medical reasons, contact your manager to inform them of the reason for your absence (not diagnosis), and provide an expected date of return.  If a RTW date is unknown, check in daily to confirm your ability to attend work.  If you are unable to contact your manager due to medical reasons, your emergency contact needs contact the manager on your behalf.  When contacting the manager, you or your emergency contact are not required to disclose your diagnosis.   
  • When absence is (or is expected to exceed) more than 5 consecutive days, you will need to complete a Leave of Absence request form and submit it along with a generic medical note. The form can be found on MyMohawk under the Disability Management Forms section.
  • Cooperate with a vendor (third party) managing medical documentation related to medical STD leave.
  • Attend an Independent Medical Evaluation (IME) when deemed necessary to obtain clarification of abilities, restrictions and limitations.
  • Where the College determines that the initial medical documentation is insufficient and the employee is required to provide further documentation from the physician or attending specialist, the College shall pay the cost of the medical examination or documentation in accordance to the current Ontario physicians fee guide. This is applicable for STD claims only.
  • Communicate with the Employee Abilities Coordinator when required. 
  • Actively participate in rehabilitative treatment, making every effort to schedule appointments outside of work hours.
  • Utilize the College Employee Assistance Program.
  • Work with your manager in identifying suitable job duties, follow modified work plans that are within your functional abilities.
  • Inform your treating physician that the College has a RTW Policy and has the ability to accommodate based on the abilities, restrictions and limitations.
  • Report any concerns with the RTW plan to your direct manager. Contact the Employee Abilities Coordinator if needed. 
  • For co-workers of RTW employees, demonstrates understanding, support and empathy during the employee's transition back into the workplace. Cooperate with the accommodation needs of the returning employee where applicable.

6.2 Managers

  • Provide a safe work environment.
  • Consult and discuss expectations with the Employee Abilities Coordinator throughout the RTW process to ensure that communications and support for the employee are consistent.
  • Ensure immediate medical attention is provided if required.
  • Provide input into the development of a written RTW plan.
  • Ensure policies and procedures are consistently applied.
  • Consult with the employee and/or the workplace parties when identifying suitable, productive work.
  • Modify the workplace, as identified in the RTW/Accommodation Plan. 
  • Monitor the progress of the employee on modified work programs and meet with them regularly to ensure there are no concerns. If Accommodation is permanent, continue to monitor according to a timeline suitable to the circumstances.
  • Maintain the confidentiality of the employee
  • Maintain team cohesion during the employee’s absence and return to the role
  • Ensure there is equitable workload balance across the department 

6.3 Union or Employee Representatives

  • Work collaboratively with other workplace parties to facilitate return to work initiatives and/or accommodation planning. 

6.4 Health Professional Responsibilities

  • Provide timely, clear documentation relating to functional abilities, assistive devices, and other health resources.

6.5 Employee Abilities Coordinator

  • Central point of contact to communicate and coordinate the RTW process.
  • Responsible for administration of the formalized RTW Policy.
  • Work closely with the third-party vendor and the workplace parties, medical consultants, and insurance providers to ensure a fair and consistent approach is used when facilitating:
    • Early and safe transition back into the workplace following an illness or injury (both occupational (WSIB) & non-occupational (STD, LTD));
    • Temporary and permanent requests for accommodation;
    • Develop individual written RTW Plans with objective medical restrictions and input from the workplace parties. 
    • Provide advice, guidance and education to managers relating to return to work, accommodations, sick leave provisions of the collective agreements and benefit plans, and compliance with appropriate legislation.
  • Monitor the progress of each return-to-work case and advise involved parties of any changes to wages, duration, duties and closure of the plan.
  • Document all activities and responsibilities in each return-to-work case.

6.6 Human Resources Strategic Partners (HRSP)

  • Provide advice, guidance to managers and employees relating to human resource matters, attendance management, compensation and benefits, compliance with appropriate legislation, Mohawk policies and procedures, and the collective agreements.
  • Consult with the Employee Abilities Coordinator and manager regarding work placement options, where necessary.

6.7 Insurance Carriers/Consultants (i.e. Sun Life, Third Party Vendor)

  • Request medical documentation to support an absence due to medical reasons.
  • Determine eligibility and approval of STD, LTD or WSIB benefits.
  • Advise the College when employees have received clearance to return to work, in addition to providing details of abilities, restrictions and limitations, while ensuring compliance with the appropriate legislation, collective agreements and benefits plans.
  • Work collaboratively with Mohawk’s Employee Abilities Coordinator , managers, employees and their Union Representatives (if requested) to facilitate a successful return to work.

7. Return to Work Process

When the employee is medically supported to return to work and restrictions/limitations are confirmed, the Employee Abilities Coordinator will arrange a RTW Meeting with the workplace parties, when necessary.  In situations where the medical leave was short in duration (less than 5 days), and there are no restrictions or limitations, a formal written RTW plan and/or meeting may not be required.  The RTW/Accommodation process is most effective when all workplace parties are actively involved. 

The RTW Process will include:

  • Early Intervention, Communication, 
  • Assessment,
  • Evaluation of options,
  • Planning/Coordination,
  • Implementation,
  • Monitoring and evaluation of the outcome.

7.1 Early Intervention, Communication

Early intervention and clear communication are essential for returning employees.  These help employees re-establish or maintain a positive connection with the college.  It helps alleviate potential concerns the employee may have after sustaining injuries or illnesses.  It also helps employees potentially avoid long term absences and reintegrate more smoothly into the workplace with supports. 

Further, early intervention enables the employee to:

  • maintain income (where possible, with no loss of pay);
  • retain productive employment and job security;
  • maintain self-esteem, family stability and social ties;
  • maintain job skills;
  • retain eligibility for government benefits;
  • retain pension and benefit packages; and
  • resume “routine” life activities sooner, with less uncertainty about the future.

7.2 Assessment

Once medical documentation has been received indicating that the employee is cleared to return to work, the Employee Abilities Coordinator will inform the workplace parties and return to work planning will proceed.  The abilities, restrictions or limitations will be assessed based on the essential duties of the job.  In addition, an assessment will be done to identify and develop strategies to remove any barriers to returning to the pre-disability position.

Where clarification of the abilities, restrictions or limitations are required, the Employee Abilities Coordinator or the third-party vendor may contact the physician/specialist directly with employee consent.  Employees are expected to comply and fully cooperate with the College’s Disability Management Program when clarification of the employee’s abilities, restrictions and limitations are required.

7.3 Evaluation of Options

The workplace parties will discuss and evaluate the available options to determine the best course of action going forward (e.g., operational needs, amount of sick time available, essential duties of the job, temporary restrictions vs permanent restrictions, type of modifications (job duties/hours and rate of increase, etc.)

In all cases, the job modifications/accommodations will begin with an evaluation of the essential duties of the pre-disability (home) position. Each case will be evaluated on its own merit.  If the employee is unable to perform the essential duties of their pre-disability position, or no longer able to work full hours, alternate placement options will be explored.

7.4 Planning/Coordination

All parties have a duty to cooperate in the RTW process.  The RTW process is meant to be transparent and collaborative. 

RTW Plans will be prepared in writing by the Employee Abilities Coordinator. The Employee Abilities Coordinator shall consult with the employee and their union representative as per the obligations in accordance with the relevant collective agreement. The Employee Abilities Coordinator may consult with health professionals, third party providers and the employee’s manager.  

7.5 Implementation

When the RTW or Accommodation Plan and the reasonable costs associated with implementation of the modifications are approved, (i.e., purchase of equipment, hardware, software, etc.) the costs will be incurred by the College.

The employee will inform the Employee Abilities Coordinator  and their direct manager immediately to identify any concerns with the RTW Plan/Schedule.  Flexibility is important, as at times, minor modifications to the RTW Plan may be required. Where significant changes are required to the existing RTW Plan, or there is a lengthy recovery period, a request for additional medical updates may be required.

Where an employee is required to participate in treatment or rehabilitation, the employee should make every effort to schedule appointments for treatment (e.g., physiotherapy, etc.) outside of regular work hours.

7.6 Monitor and Evaluate Success

Managers must monitor progress and discuss concerns directly with the employee. Where adjustments to the current plan are necessary, the Employee Abilities Coordinator must be notified, and the RTW Plan will be revised.  If necessary, the workplace parties may meet to discuss the necessary adjustments.

Follow-up meetings will be arranged with the workplace parties to monitor ongoing progress, where necessary.

8. Training and Policy Communication

8.1 New Employee Orientation

All new employees will be made aware of the RTW Policy and have access through MyMohawk. 

8.2 Employee Communication

Human Resources will ensure general communication regarding updates to the Policy, when necessary, and will continue to promote the benefits of the Policy and working collaboratively to ensure a successful implementation.

The Employee Abilities Coordinator will meet with managers who require support with managing individual cases.

9. Compliance

Workplace parties are to actively participate and provide reasonable input into the development of a suitable RTW or Accommodation Plan.  Employees are to respond and provide medical documentation when requested, and make all reasonable attempts to fully participate in the return-to-work process. Employees are expected to participate in a reasonable accommodation, coordinated by the Workplace parties, if the accommodation aligns with functional abilities.

The College encourages employees to participate in treatment or rehabilitation; however, every effort should be made to schedule appointments outside of regular work hours.  In the event that is not possible, employees must discuss the situation with their manager.

When the College requires specific in-depth clarification of abilities, restrictions or limitations, level of disability or prognosis for return to work, the Employee Abilities Coordinator will coordinate a referral for an Independent Medical Evaluation (IME), or Functional Abilities Evaluation (FAE), as required.

Employees will be granted 10 days to provide the third-party vendor with sufficient medical documentation to support or non-support a claim. Where there is a reasonable request for an extension to provide medical documentation to the third-party provider, the College may approve the requested extension. In the event that the medical is not received or a claim is non-supported, payment will immediately suspend.

*In the event the medical documentation is deemed insufficient, the College will immediately suspend or deny payment of short-term disability benefits until such medical documentation is provided.

Where an employee refuses to cooperate, provide medical documentation, or return to work when medically cleared, payment of salary/benefits may be suspended, terminated and/or the employee may face discipline, up to and including termination.

10. Mediation - Dispute Resolution

If there is dispute related to the RTW process or the RTW/Accommodation Plan, and both parties agree to mediation, a referral will be made for an independent, and impartial Mediator with a legal and preferably equity background.

 The costs of such Mediation will be jointly shared by both parties.

11. Confidentiality Statement

The College is committed to protecting the confidentiality of employee medical and personal information collected during the RTW process.  Records of personal medical information and/or claim files are kept confidential in accordance to the Personal Health Information Protection Act. Employee health information is gathered through a process of informed, written consent from the employee. 

All individuals participating with RTW process (i.e., workplace parties) shall protect the confidentiality of personal medical documentation. 

12. Policy Revision Date

12.1 Revision Date

March 2029

12.2 Responsibility

The Chief Human Resources Officer is responsible for reviewing this policy every five years or earlier when required.

13. Attachments

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14. Specific Links