Return to Work

Addressing Pain Management & Opioid Use/Abuse

Internal Policies: Return to Work

Each employer has specific return-to-work policies predicated primarily on safety concerns on a job-by-job basis. For example, someone sitting at desk might be more functional than a person driving a forklift if both are returning to work while taking prescription pain medication.

It’s important to communicate with employees about your policy on a regular basis and not just on paper. Use new employee orientations, safety meetings and training sessions to reinforce important messages about your return-to-work policy and the risks and potential safety issues related to using prescription drugs, including opioids, while at work.

Following are recommendations for employees returning to work using pain medication:1

  • Require employees to provide a letter to their supervisor from the prescribing health care professional stating the ability to work while taking a schedule II or III narcotic opioid
  • Based on the nature of the work environment and safety considerations, determine if an employee using an opioid can function in the workplace with minimal risk; if risk is not considered minimal, continue disability status to eliminate any safety concerns
  • Certain jobs may not allow for employees using ongoing pain medications for safety related concerns (e.g. driving a vehicle, forklift, operating heavy machinery)

Key aspects of practical return-to-work/stay-at-work policies include:35

  • Employee FAQ explaining the process and providing key contacts
  • Supervisor conversation script to ensure proper questions are asked consistently
  • Medical provider letter and workability form that properly outline capabilities
  • Acknowledgment of limitations or capabilities aligned with work assignments
  • Interactive guidelines to manage the accommodation process
  • Benefits coordination letter when overlapping into workers’ compensation, FMLA and group health


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