Written By: Dale Orlando and Aidan Vining, Student-at-Law
Returning to work after a spinal cord injury is an important yet often difficult endeavor. For many people, work is more than a job and a pay cheque. It’s part of their identity providing them with a sense of self-worth, a social network, and a contributory role in society.
While returning to work after a spinal cord injury is certainly difficult, it is often possible. Our Toronto spinal cord injury lawyers have decades of experience assisting individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury to return to work. Below, we will discuss some of the resources a spinal cord injury lawyer can connect you with if you are considering a return to work following a spinal cord injury, as well as some legal tips to ensure you are treated fairly and respectfully.
Challenges and Opportunities for Returning to Work After a Spinal Cord Injury
Following a spinal cord injury and a prolonged absence from employment, financial issues may arise that put pressure on you to return to work. When contemplating a return to work after suffering a spinal cord injury, one of the first steps is to understand your unique injury and functional limitations. Injuries affect individuals differently and it is important to take time to recover and acclimate to any new physical and / or mental challenges you may now be facing. A personal injury lawyer can help you access monetary benefits and services that will enable you to focus on your rehabilitation and recovery.
When you are ready to attempt a return to work, the next step is to consider a return to your previous occupation. Some individuals may be able to return to their previous employment with only minor accommodations. Every employer has an obligation to accommodate an employee. Returning to a previous job can also involve taking on similar, but different responsibilities.
For others, a return to work after a traumatic spinal cord injury may provide the opportunity to find a new career path and a chance to pursue passions they have always wanted to pursue.
Planning a return to work after a spinal cord injury may require some creativity and patience on your part. Our goal is to find a solution that is tailored to your wants and your needs. Some resources to help improve employment outcomes are discussed below.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Vocational rehabilitation services cover a wide array of medical, social, and psychological services that assist individuals who have suffered a disability in returning to work. Vocational rehabilitation services include counselling, guidance, and training services that aim to identify suitable employment options based on an individual’s personal needs, skills, abilities, and experience.
In Ontario, individuals who have suffered a catastrophic impairment as the result of a motor vehicle collision are entitled to $1,000,000 in accident benefits for medical, rehabilitation, and attendant care services for life from their automobile insurer or the insurer of an at-fault vehicle. The Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule provides that rehabilitation benefits shall pay for all reasonable and necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of an insured person with respect to vocational assessments, vocational or academic training, workplace modifications, and workplace devices, among other services and accommodations facilitating a return to work.
Vocational rehabilitation services can help sharpen pre-existing skills and assist with training in new areas. This process is led by the individual and their goals for returning to work.
At McLeish Orlando, we have decades of experience working with occupational therapists, case managers, and other vocational rehabilitation service providers to assist our clients in returning to work after a spinal cord injury. Over the years, we have amassed a wide network of such providers and are able to connect you with a team that is tailored to your needs, location, and goals.
Legal Rights and Prohibited Grounds of Discrimination
When contemplating a return to work after suffering a spinal cord injury, it is also important to know your legal rights and to advocate for fair and respectful treatment. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, disability is a prohibited ground of discrimination for employers, meaning every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of disability.
The protection against discrimination based on disability includes physical, mental, learning, and developmental disabilities. This protection also captures perceived disabilities and past disabilities.
Workplace Accessibility and Accommodation
Under Canadian law, all employers have a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship. This means an employer must take every reasonable step necessary to accommodate an employee’s disability unless it would cause the employer to suffer undue hardship.
There are many simple changes that can be made to a workplace to make it more accessible for individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury. Examples of such changes include increasing parking near entrances, adding ramps and automatic door systems, and ensuring doorways and hallways are clear of obstructions for wheelchairs.
Overall, the most important step in returning to work after a spinal cord injury is determining what accommodations you require and coming up with creative solutions to ensure you are able to return to work to the best of your abilities. Occupational therapists and other vocational rehabilitation service providers can help you in this process. Some examples of accommodations could include making key items easier to reach, instituting the use of assistive technologies, or scheduling reduced work hours. Accommodations should be personalized and unique to your needs.
Have You or a Loved One Suffered a Spinal Cord Injury?
If you or a loved one have suffered a spinal cord injury, our Toronto spinal cord injury lawyers are here to help. Our Toronto spinal cord injury law firm has decades of experience representing and assisting individuals who have suffered catastrophic personal injuries. McLeish Orlando spinal cord injury lawyers can connect you with leading medical professionals and provide you with a strong network of vocational rehabilitation services so that you or your loved one can focus on recovery and returning to work while we advocate for your legal rights and obtain your fair and full compensation. Contact one of our Toronto spinal cord injury lawyers for a free consultation to discuss your next steps.