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What to Do When Returning to Work After Disability

written by: •edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 4/14/2012

Returning to the workplace after a disability can be stressful. It's important to know your disability rights, what paperwork to get from your doctor and how to deal with the initial challenges in getting back to work. Find out some key issues for going back to work from disability leave.

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    Know Your Disability Rights

    800px-Disabled parking place 

    Knowing your disability rights can ease your mind and prevent you from being taken advantage of by your employer or by co-workers. Before going back to work from disability leave, familiarize yourself with the laws pertaining to being disabled. There are three important laws that you need to review when you are disabled.

    The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

    Under this law, you have a right to privacy pertaining to your medical condition. Your employer is also obligated to store your medical records in a secure location within the company, only giving access to key employees such as the benefits or payroll officers. Highlights related to disabilities and HIPAA can be found the HIPAA Information Page, which is run by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

    Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

    This law obligates companies with over 50 employees to grant you up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for a 12-month calendar year. In other words, your employer is required to hold your position of provide you with another position of equivalent work and equivalent pay upon your return. To qualify under your particular disability, see the US Department of Justice’s FMLA Fact sheet at: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.htm.

    American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    This law obligates protection of disabled persons and mandates employers to provide equal access to workplace amenities, workstations and other things that can affect your day-to-day work experience. Read more about the ADA at the US Department of Justice’s ADA Information Page.

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    What is a Disability?

    Just what is considered a disability? The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines disability using three conditions. Namely, a person is disabled if - "(1) [he/she] has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; OR (2) [he/she] has a record of such impairment; OR (3) [he/she] is regarded as having such impairment."

    With regards to employment, there are several types of disabilities that determine how long you are out, how much you get paid and what you need to re-enter the workplace. Short-term disability or STD becomes active from 0 to 14 days after the disabling injury and can usually range from a few weeks, months or up to one year. On the other hand, long-term disability or LTD usually starts after short-term has run out and can last from five years to the remaining years of life.

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    Considerations When Returning to Work

    Required paperwork to bring back to work

    Before going back to work from disability leave, you must obtain a “Return to Work release" form or documentation from your physician indicating your ability to work, any work restrictions that may affect performing the job and any treatments that you must take that may affect performing your job. Make sure that you obtain thorough advice from your physician on performing your job responsibilities. Under HIPAA, the employer is required to keep this information confidential. Under FMLA and ADA, the employer is also bound to adjust your position to fit your disability. If the employer refuses to adhere to the law, you have the right to file a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

    Be clear in your documentation, what job responsibilities you can handle and what you cannot handle. Physical and mental restrictions often may appear once you are back to work. If this is the case, re-visit your doctor and obtain another work release indicating your condition and why you cannot perform the job responsibilities. Ask your employer for any options to change or share the job responsibilities. Depending on the industry and the company, flextime work options may be available.

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    More Considerations When Returning to Work

    Physical issues to consider in returning back to work

    Returning back to work can be a stressful life event that can take its toll on a once disabled employee. Before actually starting your first week back to work, consider the physical issues associated with returning back to your job. Prepare for the changes in your daily hours and activities by getting support from loved ones. Be patient and understanding of your physical ailments and take your time getting back into the grind of working normal hours. It may be helpful to work out limited hours with your employer for the first week. Consider visiting the office on off-hours to prepare for your return. Examine walking paths, sitting arrangements, office equipment and lighting.

    Mental and emotional issues to consider in returning back to work

    Oftentimes, once disabled employees consider themselves to be “damaged goods" upon returning back to their normal routines. While this does dissipate in time, the first few weeks can be depressing as you try to re-acclimate to the vigor of work life. Remember, you are not obligated to discuss your condition or limitations with fellow employees at work. If you feel harassed by fellow co-workers, report them immediately to your supervisor. Under the ADA law, you have protection from discrimination in your workplace.

    Overall, remember to be patient and take your time getting back into your work routine. Going back to work from disability is tough, but it can be accomplished with proper time and stress management. Also, enlist a good support system in family members and friends to help you through times of doubt, depression and frustration. Understand your new physical, mental and emotional limitations if any, and adhere to your doctor's job restrictions.

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    References

    * Laws pertaining to disability rights

    HIPAA - The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996US Department of Health and Human Services HIPAA Information Page, http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/

    FMLA - Family Medical Leave Act of 1993US Department of Justice Factsheet - http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.htm

    ADA - American Disabilities Act of 1990 - http://www.ada.gov/

    * US government agencies related to disability rights and benefits

    US Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), http://www.disability.gov/

    US Social Security Administration- Disability program website - http://www.ssa.gov/disability/

    - Ticket to Work program – http://ssa.gov/work/aboutticket.html

    Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), http://www.eeoc.com

    * Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.