Returning to work

Whether an employee has been ill or injured on or off the job, the process of returning the employee to work may require review of applicable policies and statutory guidelines. This overview is to provide general guidance in relation to these return-to-work issues and related protocols.

Regulatory provisions and policy background

The University of California, Office of the President (UCOP) is covered by the following:

  • CALIFORNIA LABOR CODE, SECTION 132.a: prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee injured on-the-job because the employee has either filed a workers' compensation claim or revealed his/her intent to file a claim. The law also protects employees who have testified in a Workers' Compensation Appeals Board hearing.
  • AMERICAN DISABILITES ACT (ADA) and CALIFORNIA FAIR EMPLOYMENT HOUSING ACTION (FEHA): state employers may not discriminate against qualified persons with disabilities. A qualified individual with a disability means one with a physical or mental impairment who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of their jobs.

Employees with short-term ("temporary") disabilities


  1. To identify and provide temporary modified work for employees who have been absent due to illness or injury and are now medically released to return to work;
  2. To mitigate any potential loss of employee job skills, knowledge and abilities (SKA’s);
  3. To comply with policy and applicable State and Federal laws; and
  4. To contain labor costs and mitigate potential medical expense and litigation losses to the University.

Conditions on Returning to work

Studies have shown that the sooner injured employees can be brought back to work, the faster they will recover and be able to return to their regular assignments. This requires close collaboration between department managers and supervisors.

  1. Without restrictions: employees should be returned to their regularly assigned duties and responsibilities.
  2. With restrictions: Temporary restrictions/modified duty/reduced work schedules, generally between thirty (30) to ninety (90) calendar days.
    1. Departments must make best efforts to provide temporary modified duty to employees with workers’ compensation and non-work related illnesses and injuries.
    2. Supervisors must first try and modify the employee’s regularly assigned duties and responsibilities to enable the employee to continue performing all or most of his/her job. If the job cannot be modified sufficiently to meet the employee’s medical restrictions, the employee may be assigned to a different job within his/her department. If no work can be found within the department, the supervisor must contact Disability Management Services for assistance and possible placement in a job outside of the home department.
Notice: Please refer to current University policies, procedures, statutory guidelines, and applicable collective bargaining agreements which shall supersede any and all information contained in this document or elsewhere on this site.

Returning to a temporary work assignment

Effective management of health-related employee absences minimizes workforce disruption, employee productivity, and various costs associated with disabilities. The UCOP Return to Work Program utilizes the campus' financial and human resources in the most effective manner by ensuring that employees who have an illness or injury are returned to their jobs as early as medically feasible. 

Early intervention, such as the identification of temporary modified work options, is likely to decrease the employee's time off from work and provides positive reinforcement of the employee's effort toward recovery and return to a productive work life.

Employee's Responsibilities

  • Providing their supervisor with initial and ongoing status of their capability to work, including documentation from their treating physician about physical and/or mental restrictions, medical restrictions, approximate time off needed and anticipated return to work date.
  • Discussing work-related information on the medical status form with direct supervisor.
  • Obtaining additional information, as necessary, about medical restrictions from the treating or consulting physician.
  • Consulting his/her supervisor and Accommodation and Leave Services regarding return to work modified duty and/or accommodation issues.
  • Consulting Accommodation and Leave Services regarding potential benefits issues such as eligibility for the University's Partial Disability: Stay at Work/Return to Work Program and workers' compensation extended sick leave (ESL) benefits.

Regularly Assigned Supervisor's Responsibilities

  • Work consistent with temporary medical restrictions will be assigned within the employee's department for up to ninety (90) calendar days. If, at the end of this period, the employee's recovery from disability has not progressed or the health care provider is unable to release the employee to his/her regularly assigned duties and/or work schedule, the employee "may" be taken off from work until such time as the employee is sufficiently recovered to resume the full scope of the job as originally defined. At the University's discretion, the ninety (90) calendar day time period may be extended in consultation and coordination with Accommodation and Leave Services.
  • In the event of a work incurred injury, when a department cannot provide employment compatible with the temporary work restrictions, an employee will be reassigned to another department for a period of up to ninety (90) calendar days. The salary for the temporary assignment in another department will be borne by the employee's home department. Extension of the ninety (90) calendar day temporary assignment in another department is at the discretion of the University.

In addition, an employee's regularly assigned supervisor is responsible for the following.

  • Defining physical and mental requirements and essential job functions of the employee's position.
  • Providing temporary modified/light duty within the department upon receipt of the employee's work restrictions or documenting the reasons why temporary modified/light duty is not available in coordination and consultation with Accommodation and Leave Services.
  • Notifying Accommodation and Leave Services immediately of any employee medical restrictions, extensions of leave, change in the employee's return to work status or any other employee and labor issues that may be pertinent to the case.
  • Notifying Benefits Services and payroll time reporting (PTR) preparers of the employee's return to work, changes in the employee's status, reduced work schedule, etc.
  • In the event of a work incurred injury, the department will be responsible for paying for the employee's salary while in a temporary modified/light alternate work assignment in another department. This applies when the home department is unable to provide modified work.

Alternative Department Supervisory Responsibilities

  • Ensuring that the work provided is consistent with the specified restrictions.
  • Notifying the employee's home department and Accommodation and Leave Services of any changes in the employee's work status and all other pertinent information.

Accommodation and Leave Services Responsibilities

  • Providing return to work services, including short-term "temporary" modified duty and long-term "permanent" reasonable accommodation, to active UCOP disabled employees at all levels of the organization. Such services may include, but are not limited to, vocational counseling, resource referrals, forms completion, conducting ergonomic work station evaluations; reviewing and analyzing job functions; etc.
  • Review of all proposed medical separation requests in accordance with applicable policies, collective bargaining agreements, and statutory guidelines, as appropriate.
  • Coordination of any and all other employee and labor relations issues that may be pertinent to the case

Program Considerations

  • If an employee, exempt or non-exempt, is released to return to work on a reduced work schedule, e.g., four hours per day, wages will be paid for the hours worked and the employee may be entitled to additional income under the University's short or long-term disability benefits programs. Please contact UCOP Benefits Services for additional information.
  • At the end of the maximum period, the supervisor/manager, in consultation with Accommodation and Leave Services, will evaluate the employee's capacity for continued work. Further employment options will be determined at the University's discretion.
  • No temporary work assignment described or covered under these guidelines is intended or offered as a permanent assignment.

Notice: Please refer to current University policies, procedures, statutory guidelines, and applicable collective bargaining agreements which shall supersede any and all information contained in this document or elsewhere on this site.