Return to work or job transition? Employer dilemmas in taking social responsibility for return to work in local workplace practice
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PURPOSE: The aim was to analyze the role and activities of employers with regard to return to work (RTW), in local workplace practice. METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with sick-listed workers and their supervisors in 18 workplaces (n = 36). The analytical approach to study the role of employers in RTW was based on the three-domain model of social corporate responsibility. The model illustrates the linkage between corporations and their social environment, and consists of three areas of corporate responsibility: economic, legal and ethical. RESULTS: Employers had difficulties in taking social responsibility for RTW, in that economic considerations regarding their business took precedence over legal and ethical considerations. Employers engaged in either "RTW activities" or "transition activities" that were applied differently depending on how valued sick-listed workers were considered to be to their business, and on the nature of the job (e.g., availability of suitable work adjustments). CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that Swedish legislation and policies does not always adequately prompt employers to engage in RTW. There is a need for further attention to the organizational conditions for employers to take social responsibility for RTW in the context of business pressure and work intensification. IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATION: Employers may have difficulties in taking social responsibility for RTW when economic considerations regarding their business take precedence over legal and ethical considerations. Rehabilitation professionals should be aware of that outcomes of an RTW process can be influenced by the worker's value to the employer and the nature of the job (e.g., availability of suitable work adjustments). "Low-value" workers at workplaces with limited possibilities to offer workplace adjustments may run a high risk of dismissal. Swedish legislation and policies may need reforms to put more pressure on employers to promote RTW.
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