Last Updated on July 16, 2020

This free to use training activity it particularly useful if you are running a ‘Return to Work’ workshop or class.

Supporting your employees who come back after an absence, particularly a long absence, needs planning and one aspect of that planning is to consider making adjustments (accommodations in the USA) for the employee returning.

This activity will help your participants to learn about how to plan reasonable adjustments/accommodations for an employee who is returning from a long absence.

Return to work planning

Activity Time-Frame

15 minutes is an ideal time-frame for this activity. This will mean 10 minutes for small groups of participants to work on the task together and then 5 minutes for a class discussion and feedback.

Starting the Activity

Start by asking participants to form groups of 4.

Give each group a piece of A1 paper and some colored markers.

Then, ask each group to discuss the case studies on the slide (see image below) and think of what adjustment they would put in place for these employees.

Ask each group to jot down the answers on the A1 piece of paper.

The case studies do not specify the type of job that each employee does, so that it can be left to you and/ or the participants to decide and adapt the examples based, for example, on the industry they work in.

Depending on how much time you have and the number of groups, you can ask each group to cover all four case studies or you can assign one or two case studies per group.

Give participants 10 minutes for the small group discussion.

Allow another 5 minutes to discuss with the class as a whole.

If you are teaching online

Allocate participants in virtual breakout rooms. They can use the chat facility or a virtual whiteboard to write down their answers.

At the end of the group discussion, bring all participants back together to the main room to discuss with the whole class.

Examples of Solutions for Each Case Study

Case study A: An employee who needs a wheelchair following an accident

In the situation where a member of staff is returning and now needs wheelchair access because of an accident, the employer can, for example:

  • Change the work surface area, so the wheelchair can fit in
  • Provide suitable car parking space
  • Make structural changes such as widening doors; providing ramps and relocating light switches, door handles, or shelves for someone who has difficulty in reaching.
  • Relocate the work station to the ground floor if it is easier to access.

Case study B: An employee who suffers from diabetes.

For a returning employee who now needs to consider diabetes because of a new health diagnosis, the employer can do many things and some examples include:

  • Allow more frequent breaks to get the right amount of food or drinks at the right times throughout the day and for blood sugar tests and injections.
  • Assign the employee to a workstation near the toilets, in case they need to access the toilet urgently.
  • Provide flexible working options.

Case study C: An employee who is back following a prolonged period of mental illness.

Potential work adjustments can include:

  • Provide a phased return to work
  • Provide a position in a non-public facing role, if available, and if their condition makes it stressful for the employee to deal with members of the public.
  • Offer flexible working hours for the employee to attend appointments with their therapist
  • Provide quiet areas for the employee to work in times of stress.
  • Offer the employee a wellness and recovery action plan.
  • Foster a culture of mental health awareness in the workplace.

Case study D: An employee who has been off for a long time due to lower back pain and sciatica.

Some ideas that an employer can use in this scenario include:

  • Offer a more sedentary job, if available and if their original role was physically demanding.
  • Have their workstation assessed by an occupational health specialist to make sure that the employee can maintain a good posture and avoid straining.
  • Allow regular breaks to stretch their legs and mobilize their back.
  • Offer flexible working hours for the employee to attend appointments with their physiotherapist
  • Make sure the employee avoids activities that strain the back such as heavy or unassisted lifting, pulling or pushing; overhead work, or repetitive rotation of the back.
  • Allow the employee to avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing. For example, provide regular breaks if the employee works at a desk so they can stand up and walk around, or provide a stool to an employee who works at a shop counter so they can sit down when needed.
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Dr Paul Symonds

Paul is a trained researcher with a PhD in wayfinding. Paul is a co-founder of Symonds training. We focus on providing high-quality training materials packages and programs for trainers, classroom teachers and HR departments.

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