If You Become Disabled...

Campus Has a Program to Help Employees Return to Their Jobs

by Marylou Hessellund

What happens when employees become disabled in a way that prevents them-either partially or fully-from being able to do their regular jobs? In the past, if an employee was not able to return to full duty, there was no work available.

Since the return to modified work program began in 1991, there have been many successful work modifications that have met the needs of employees, as well as departments and supervisors.

The purpose of the return to modified work program is to enable an employee to return to work as soon as medically feasible by taking on a modified work assignment. This can mean a temporary change in one's customary job to meet medical restrictions, an alternate job for which the employee is qualified and is medically able to do, and/or a flexible work schedule.

Modified Work Saves Money

Data collected by the campus vocational rehabilitation unit at the University Health Services, which coordinates the return to modified work program, show that it is a money saver for campus departments. To date, more than a total of 45,000 work hours and approximately $1,000 in disability costs per case have been saved through the program.

Considering campus budget limitations, it is increasingly important to retain trained employees in order to complete work for which other employees would have to be hired or which might otherwise go undone.

Two Success Stories

Flora Oviedo is an employee who developed non-work-related Meniere's syndrome, a condition that affects balance and hearing. She was off from work for 10 months. After recovering from surgery, Oviedo's doctor approved a part-time return to her duties as a senior word processing specialist.

Fortunately, Oviedo's department was able to back fill her position with former employees who were available on recall. The former employees' previous experience was invaluable as it reduced the amount of training needed, and their flexibility was critical when Oviedo's time was increased gradually by her doctor. By working out these arrangements, the department showed its support of Oviedo's concerns for her health and income. Oviedo's supervisor made accommodations to provide as much flexibility as possible, while still meeting the department's work needs.

Linda Manly, a student affairs officer, developed a repetitive strain injury from her computer work. Her doctor restricted the amount of time she could spend performing data entry and other related duties. With Manly's input and the assistance of her supervisor and a vocational rehabilitation counselor, the department was able to provide adaptive equipment. This included a telephone headset, an alternative keyboard and a table that allows her to stand when needed. She also moved her most frequently used files to a middle file cabinet drawer to avoid raising her arms above shoulder height. The telephone headset allows her to walk around her office and stretch when returning phone calls.

Benefits for All

Staff, supervisors and departments can all benefit from a work modification arrangement. Individuals can maintain their productivity and work skills, resume earning their regular income much sooner and regain a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.

Supervisors and departments benefit by saving money and time. A small investment in temporary assistance or adaptive technology can help a committed staff person gradually return to full time duty. Time is saved by reducing the amount of training that would be needed to orient an entirely new employee.

Finally, as one supervisor put it, "it's the right thing to do because if I became disabled, I would expect appropriate accommodation, too."

Return to modified work is clearly a win-win for the individual and the department.

For More Help...

For the return to modified work description and procedures, refer to the following web page: http://www.uhs.berkeley.edu/FacStaff/VocRehab/9vrrtw.html, or call the following vocational rehabilitation counselors for assistance:

Business and Administrative Services or Chancellor's office: Janette White Shelton, 642-8659; for academic or research units: Al Perez, 642-1914.

Reasonable accommodation training, a customized workshop available to campus departments. Call 642-8768 for more information.

Marylou Hessellund is the manager of the Workers' Compensation and Vocational Rehabilitation Unit.


Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail berkeleyan@pa.urel.berkeley.edu.