What are modified duties?

Modified duties are provided by an employer or organization when an employee cannot complete their regular duties. The employee may be unable to perform their regular duties because of a disability, an illness, or injury. Modified duties could include modified hours of work, ability to work remotely, a change in the frequency or duration of breaks, or reduction of certain duties. Modified duties are often temporary, such as to facilitate a return to work after an injury or leave.

What modified duties do I have to provide?

What duties you have to provide depend on what your employee needs. Modified duties should always be determined based on the employee’s abilities and limitations. Employers can request that the employee work with their healthcare provider to complete a functional abilities form (link to What is a functional abilities form?). The form would set out what the employee can and cannot do and how long the stated limitations are expected to last. Based on the employee’s limitations, suitable modified duties can be determined.

How long should modified duties be in place?

It depends on how long the employee’s limitations are expected to last. For example, if an employee is returning to work after a workplace injury to their shoulder, they may be given modified duties that involve not lifting anything over a certain weight for a specified period of time. Sometimes the duration specified is based on something happening, such as physiotherapy sessions being completed; other times the duration is uncertain and needs to be reassessed. In either event, the employer and employee need to work together to ensure that the duties are appropriate for the employee in line with their limitations.

Do I have to provide modified duties?

If your employee cannot perform their regular duties, you must consider what modified duties would help them perform their work. Modified duties are a type of accommodation, and accommodations are required by law. Such duties may also be required by the workers’ compensation board in your jurisdiction where it applies. One instance where you would not be required to provide modified duties is if you can demonstrate that it would cause undue hardship to modify the duties in a way the employee could perform them. Undue hardship is not the same as hardship. You may be required to endure some hardship; it’s only when the hardship rises to the level of undue that you might be excused from having to provide modified duties. What is “undue” is determined by an adjudicator. The other instance where you may not have to provide modified duties is if the employee’s limitations affect a bona fide occupational requirement. Again, these circumstances would be limited. In any event, you should always consider what your employee can and cannot do and try to find a way to remove barriers to help them fulfil their role.

For more information on how to best accommodate employees in their return to work programs, see our blog, How to Request Medical Information to Accommodate Employees.

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