Return to Work Principles Policy 21-420 | Effective Date: March 29, 2017


The purpose of this policy is to:

  • Advise workers, employers, unions where applicable, and service providers, of WorkSafeNB’s commitment to early and safe return to work as part of therapeutic rehabilitation following a workplace injury; and
  • Provide staff with an understanding of WorkSafeNB’s return to work principles, in order to guide their use of available tools when facilitating return to work.


This policy applies to:


1.0 General

WorkSafeNB recognizes that early and safe return to work is an important component of rehabilitation plans for most injured workers. WorkSafeNB is committed to using best practices, scientific literature, and medical research to guide and facilitate return to work activities. 

WorkSafeNB helps injured workers to achieve functional restoration, as it relates to return to work activities, by working with the injured worker, the employer, health care providers and others, to design individual rehabilitation plans. 

These plans are used to manage and integrate the injured worker’s needs for medical aid, return to work assistance, and compensation benefits. They enable staff to:

  • Organize the necessary services and activities;
  • Communicate activities and information to other staff;
  • Monitor and evaluate the injured worker’s progress toward functional restoration; and
  • Make adjustments, as required. 

Medical rehabilitation and return to work assistance may occur at the same time, or may even be achieved through the same activities. 

WorkSafeNB encourages health care providers, injured workers, employers, and other parties to work cooperatively and to explore all reasonable, creative and flexible solutions to design plans that will facilitate the injured worker staying at work, when possible, or early and safe return to work. 

WorkSafeNB respects confidentiality of information, recognizing the need for sharing of appropriate information in planning rehabilitation and return to work activities.

2.0 Return to Work Principles

The following principles guide WorkSafeNB staff in the development and implementation of rehabilitation plans.

I. WorkSafeNB supports injured workers throughout their return to work efforts. 

This principle recognizes that:

  • The needs of each injured worker must be considered when designing rehabilitation plans;
  • Motivated injured workers actively participate in their rehabilitation;
  • Injured workers, employers, physicians, health care providers, and unions when appropriate, should actively participate in the development of rehabilitation plans;
  • Injured workers may have apprehensions regarding their return to work efforts, and WorkSafeNB staff may need to work to alleviate these apprehensions; and
  • It may be necessary to try more than one approach to reach a successful outcome. 

II. WorkSafeNB promotes early and safe return to work as being clinically and vocationally therapeutic.

Based on best practices and research, including Canadian Medical Association consensus, WorkSafeNB recognizes that injured workers can benefit from staying at work or returning to work in some capacity before full recovery is achieved. Staying at work or returning to work can improve a worker’s physical and mental health, while easing the transition to full or maximized duties.

Injured workers, who participate in early and safe return to work programs as part of their rehabilitation, return to work twice as quickly as workers who do not have such programs as part of their rehabilitation plan.

Workers who return to work following the workplace injury maintain their:

  • Earning capacity;
  • Employment skills;
  • Physical conditioning;
  • Self-esteem and dignity; and
  • Workplace relationships. 

Employers benefit when injured workers return to work by:

  • Maintaining or gaining productive and experienced employees; and
  • Reducing claim durations and training costs associated with replacement workers.

WorkSafeNB is also committed to promoting safe return to work that prevents injury or re-injury by encouraging injured workers to return to suitable employment that does not:

  • Exceed the worker’s current physical limitations; or
  • Pose a specific risk to the worker or co-workers.

For more information, see Policy 21-417 Identifying Suitable Employment.

III. WorkSafeNB recognizes that return to work minimizes the injured worker’s wage loss.

WorkSafeNB recognizes that early and safe return to work can help minimize an injured worker’s wage loss. When accommodations do not allow an injured worker to stay at work during treatment, WorkSafeNB focuses rehabilitation planning on the following sequential priorities:

  1. Return to the pre-accident work with the accident employer;
  2. Return to alternate work with the accident employer;
  3. Return to pre-accident work with a new employer;
  4. Return to alternate work with a new employer; and
  5. Return to work through self-employment.

For more information, see Policy 21-421 Vocational Rehabilitation.

IV. WorkSafeNB promotes cooperation and active participation of all parties involved in an injured worker’s return to work.

This principle emphasizes the important role of all parties to actively and cooperatively participate in an injured worker’s rehabilitation. This includes:

  • Injured workers;
  • Employers;
  • Unions, when appropriate;
  • Other parties, as appropriate; and
  • WorkSafeNB.

In order to facilitate an injured worker’s return to work, these parties should be actively involved in:

  • Identifying and creating return to work solutions;
  • Providing modifications and/or ergonomic improvements, when possible, to facilitate early and safe return to work; and
  • Communicating throughout the rehabilitation and return to work process. 

V. WorkSafeNB requires that injured workers actively participate in all return to work activities and communicates that there may be consequences for not participating.

WorkSafeNB expects injured workers to actively participate in return to work activities including:

  • Following the prescribed rehabilitation plan;
  • Rehabilitation assessments and evaluations;
  • Identification of gradual or modified return to work opportunities;
  • Searching for employment opportunities; and
  • Accepting suitable employment when offered by the accident employer or an alternate employer.

When injured workers are not present and on time for rehabilitation activities or engage in activities or behaviours that prolong or prevent full recovery, WorkSafeNB applies Policy 21-214 Determining Continued Eligibility for Loss of Earnings Benefits to determine when loss of earnings benefits might cease.

VI. WorkSafeNB promotes following a structured plan to help injured workers restore their maximum function, enabling return to work.

The rehabilitation plan outlines the injured worker’s rehabilitation needs, goals, and processes to achieving functional restoration. It is intended to:

  • Document appropriately planned medical, financial, and return to work goals, tasks, and measures related to the injured worker’s rehabilitative needs;
  • Monitor progress toward functional restoration and return to work;
  • Outline responsibilities of all participants in the rehabilitation plan; and
  • Communicate WorkSafeNB’s expectations of all parties participating in the rehabilitation plan.

For more information, see Policy 21-400 Rehabilitation.

VII. WorkSafeNB promotes workers returning to productive work.

For an injured worker to realize the physical and mental benefits of returning to work, the work performed should:

  • Add value to the employer’s business; and
  • Contribute to the achievement of the injured worker’s rehabilitation goal.

VIII. WorkSafeNB promotes cooperation with and enforcement of legislated responsibilities and obligations under the Workers’ Compensation Act (WC Act) and Human Rights Act (HR Act).

WorkSafeNB is committed to communicating to workplace parties their legislated responsibilities to re-employ injured workers under the WC Act and the general duty to accommodate under the HR Act.

This principle recognizes the importance of:

  • Workplace parties working cooperatively to identify return to work solutions; and
  • WorkSafeNB’s role in informing and advising workplace parties of their responsibilities in return to work.

For more information, see Policy 21-413 Return to Work – Responsibilities and Re-employment Obligations

IX. WorkSafeNB supports return to work by providing third party mediation. 

WorkSafeNB facilitates early and safe return to work for injured workers by working with and encouraging workplace parties to work cooperatively throughout rehabilitation

When the injured worker and the accident employer are unable or unwilling to resolve return to work issues independently, WorkSafeNB may assist the workplace parties to resolve the dispute by:

  • Working with the workplace parties to identify and communicate options or alternatives that would meet the needs of both parties; and/or
  • Arranging for a third party mediator to assist the workplace parties in resolving the issue.

For more information, see Policy 21-414 Return to Work – Third Party Mediation.

X. WorkSafeNB promotes active communication between all parties involved in an injured worker’s rehabilitation and return to work.

This principle reflects WorkSafeNB’s commitment to:

  • Facilitating communication throughout rehabilitation and between all parties;
  • Informing employers of their re-employment obligation and the duty to accommodate;
  • Informing injured workers of their responsibilities in rehabilitation;
  • Informing physicians and health care providers of the need to communicate an injured worker’s functional capacity and limitations to WorkSafeNB;
  • Providing clear, detailed, and timely information on key decisions related to an injured worker’s claim; and
  • Providing clear communications material on general compensation topics.

For more information, see Policy 21-419 Communications in Rehabilitation.

3.0 Applying the Principles

To support these principles, WorkSafeNB:

  • Communicates them to injured workers, employers, other workplace parties, and health care providers;
  • Applies them in its return to work activities; and
  • Assists workplaces in applying them.

Policy 21-214 Determining Continued Eligibility for Loss of Earnings Benefits

Policy 21-400 Rehabilitation

Policy 21-413 Return to Work – Responsibilities and Re-employment Obligations

Policy 21-414 Return to Work – Third Party Mediation

Policy 21-417 Identifying Suitable Employment

Policy 21-418 Return to Work Incentives

Policy 21-419 Communications in Rehabilitation

Policy 21-421 Vocational Rehabilitation 


CMA Policy - The Treating Physician’s Role in Helping Patients Return to Work After an Illness or Injury (updated 2013) – Canadian Medical Association 




Appeals Tribunal – means the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal established under the WHSCC & WCAT Act. 

Functional restoration – process of restoring an injured worker’s ability to perform activities of daily living and/or work-related activities to the pre-accident state. When restoration of pre-accident function is not possible because of the extent of the work-related injury, rehabilitation will focus on reaching the maximum rehabilitation potential, as determined appropriate by WorkSafeNB and based on evidence that the injured worker’s function will significantly improve and progress over a reasonable timeframe.

Return to work – the act of re-introducing injured workers to safe and productive employment that eliminates or minimizes wage loss, as soon as medically possible.

Return to work plan – an individual plan designed to ease an injured worker back to pre-accident, modified or alternate duties by altering how work is done, what is done and/or the work schedule, or by teaching new skills, as needed.

Return to work program – a program in the workplace designed to facilitate return to work of injured workers through a coordinated effort addressing individual needs, workplace conditions and legal responsibilities. 

Suitable employment – appropriate employment that a worker who suffered a personal injury by accident is capable of doing, considering the worker’s physical abilities and employment qualifications and which does not endanger the health, safety or physical well-being of the worker (WC Act).

WorkSafeNB – means the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission or "the Commission" as defined by the WHSCC & WCAT Act.

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