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Work. 2014;48(4):579-89. doi: 10.3233/WOR-141914.

A review of best work-absence management and return-to-work practices for workers with musculoskeletal or common mental disorders.

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University of Sherbrooke, Center for Action in Work Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation, Hôpital Charles-LeMoyne Research Center, Longueuil, QC, Canada.
Laval University, Social and Preventive Medicine, Pavillon Ferdinand-Vandry, QC, Canada.



Workplace absenteeism is still a curse for developed countries, and more systematic practices need to be adopted to address this issue.


To review the literature on best practices for managing work absences related to musculoskeletal or common mental disorders.


A review was conducted by performing a search in bibliographic databases and on work-disability research institute websites. Recommendations regarding work-absence management and return-to-work practices were extracted from all the retained documents and organized within a chronological framework.


In total, 17 documents were analyzed, leading to identification of common work-absence management and return-to-work practices, the importance of a worker support approach, and recommended roles and responsibilities for stakeholders. These practices were then integrated into a six-step process: (1) time off and recovery period; (2) initial contact with the worker; (3) evaluation of the worker and his job tasks; (4) development of a return-to-work plan with accommodations; (5) work resumption, and (6) follow-up of the return-to-work process.


Based on this review, we constructed a comprehensive work-absence management and return-to-work process designed to assist organizations. Our results indicate that such a process must be included within a broader policy of health promotion and job retention. Adaptations will be required for implementation in the workplace.


Absenteeism; mental illness; organizational policy; pain; work disability

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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