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Am I Ready To Return To Work?


You feel like you're ready to return to work today.  But are you really ready?  Think it through by taking the following steps, each of which are described in other sections of this article:

Step 1.  Do a personal assessment to determine if you're ready to return to work. If you need it, get vocational rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation is likely to be available for free.

  • Are your symptoms under control enough to predict what you can do with your days?
  • If you are in pain, is it manageable during the hours you normally work?
  • Do you have enough energy?  Returning to work will take energy. The early days back at work may take even more energy.
  • If you're experiencing side effects from your drugs or a treatment, are they manageable?
  • Are you psychologically ready? If there is a fear of what could happen to you in the work place, learn about your rights to not be discriminated against, to receive an accommodation to help you do your work, and the right to time off if you need it. (To learn more, see DiscriminationAccommodationFMLA.)
  • How much time and energy do you need to maintain your good health?
  • Are you suffering from a lack of confidence which often comes with being out of work? If so, some things that have worked for other people:
    • Focus on what you've done, not on what you haven't done. Other people can help you focus on your positive skills and who you are.  Start working on your resume.
    • Take a course or a class. Learning new things helps confidence.
  • If you want to discuss your situation, speak with a social worker or a disease specific non-profit organization. For instance, Cancer Care, Inc. social workers can help people with cancer. offsite link.

Step 2.  Check with your specialist to find out what she or he thinks.

A discussion with your specialist is particularly important if you have any doubt about what kind of schedule you will be able to handle, or if you question whether or not you will have the stamina to go back to work. 

  • Your doctor can help review your current condition. She or he will also be able to discuss any continuing symptoms or any new symptoms that may develop as a result of your illness or as a result of medications or treatments. 
  • Your doctor can help develop strategies for handling the physical and emotional stress of looking for a job, interviewing and going back to work.
  • If you take a complicated drug regimen, discuss how you will be able to take your drugs appropriately in the work place.
  • If you'll need time off for treatment or other reasons, discuss how much time and how often. You may need an "accommodation" at work in order to take the necessary time.

If you're ready psychologically, but not physically, you may be eligible for free vocational rehabilitation

Step 3.  Confirm whether your employer has physical requirements which have to be met before you can return to work. If so, do you meet them?

  • Check to determine whether your employer has a fitness-for-duty requirement for employees returning to work.
  • Check your employee handbook for a requirement. If it's not there, ask your Advisor, or contact a person in a supervisory position in the Human Resources department.  

Step 4.  Test your physical and psychological ability to return to work.

  • It's one thing to feel healthy when you're leading a relatively stress-free life. It may be very different when you're working 40 hours a week.
  • The easiest way to test your physical and psychological abilities is to do volunteer work. Volunteer work doesn't affect disability income because you do not have to show up. 
  • If money is a pressing issue, consider working part time for your employer. If you are not comfortable testing your ability at your job, consider part time work through web sites such as Task Rabbit  offsite link or even through a temp agency. NOTE:Before starting any paid part time work, be sure to check your benefits such as health insurance and disability income to find out what affect working part-time will have on them.  It doesn't do any good to make a few dollars doing part time work and lose a disability income, health insurance or other benefits.

Step 5. Check the impact on benefits you are currently receiving.

NOTE:  If unexpected issues come up, give yourself time to think.

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Returning To Work

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