DM in Context

What is Disability Management?

Disability management is the process in the workplace designed to facilitate the employment of persons with a disability through a coordinated effort and taking into account individual needs, work environment, enterprise needs and legal responsibilities. 1

A disability management program is a program in the workplace designed to facilitate the (re)integration of people with disabilities through a coordinated effort addressing individual needs, workplace conditions, and legal responsibilities.2

Disability management programs are sometimes referred to as “return to work programs”. There are differences between these two terms, but for the purpose of this briefing, they can be viewed as the same.

Why is it important to have a disability management program?

There are many reasons why an organization should have a disability management program, some of which are described below:

Financial – Over the last twenty years, the average duration of WCB claims has more than doubled. Add to that a massive increase in short and long term disability assessment rates, and you have a costly situation. In fact, many companies spend at least 10 percent of their total payroll on direct assessment costs. On top of that, research shows that for every dollar spent on direct costs, at least an equal amount is spent on indirect costs including overtime, additional supervision, hiring and training costs, and loss of productivity. For many organizations, these indirect costs can account for an additional 10 percent of annual payroll.

Retention of Skilled Workforce – With today’s labour market shortages, it is in the best interest of employers to retain their most skilled workers. These individuals have a wealth of knowledge about the corporation and the job, and by retaining these individuals, the employer maintains the knowledge base of the organization. Employees continue performing meaningful work, maintaining their income levels and securing their future pensions. And, in a unionized environment, the union fulfills its role in protecting members’ employability while maintaining hard-won rights and responsibilities.

Increased Competitiveness – Not only are companies concerned with competition from the business down the street, but from businesses all over the world. Today’s global economy forces companies to offer the best products and services at the lowest cost. A company that can contain costs related to disabilities has an advantage. Large and small companies alike have found that by implementing sound return to work policies, they reduced costs and have become more competitive on the national and world markets.

Legal – The duty to accommodate injured and ill workers in the workplace is not an option, but a requirement under Canadian federal and provincial laws. The Canadian Human Rights Commission indicates that when an employer is approached with a request for accommodation, they are expected to:

  • determine what barriers might affect the person requesting the accommodation;
  • explore options for removing those barriers; and
  • accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

It’s the Right Thing to Do – Disability management programs have been shown to significantly reduce the negative social effects of disabling illness or injury on workers and their families. Sixty percent of Canadians with disabilities live below the poverty line; therefore, maintaining workplace attachment following the onset of a disabling condition is critical. Effective disability management programs can reduce the number of individuals entering the social security network by up to 50 percent producing dramatically better economic and social outcomes for individuals who acquire a disabling condition.

There is a dignity of work, the sense of accomplishment it brings, its value to the community and to society, and the way it contributes to a sense of belonging. The tangible benefits of income, learning and participating in the goals of an enterprise give a sense of control over our destiny. Work is fundamental to one’s sense of well being and to citizenship. Being off the job can mean isolation for workers with disabilities. Work provides vital social contact, along with a feeling of belonging to a common group. A disability management program keeps employees connected to the workplace and helps get them back to work as quickly and safely as possible.


  1. International Labour Organization (2002). Code of Practice: Managing disability in the workplace. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office
  2. National Institute of Disability Management and Research (2000). Code of Practice for Disability Management. Victoria, BC: NIDMAR