We are Illinois workers compensation attorneys who help people understand their rights. This includes explaining certain work comp related events such as work hardening.

What is work hardening?

Work hardening is a form of occupational therapy. It is a highly individualized, job-specific program designed to get an injured worker who cannot work at full capacity back to work. Work hardening programs use real or simulated work tasks and exercises that are tailored to a person’s job and their injury. For example, someone who works in construction and handles machinery may work on grip exercises to make sure they can accurately handle the equipment.

An injured worker who qualifies for a work hardening program has an initial evaluation to determine what skills or abilities need to improve, and a specific plan is developed based on their current limitations. A therapy team supports the work hardening client by planning weekly strength and endurance therapies and goals to help them meet their job requirements and safely get back to work.

Work hardening may consist of just a few sessions or it may involve several weeks of more intensive therapy. It’s usually meant for very serious injury cases.

What does getting an injured employee “back to work” really mean?

“Back to work” can mean:

  1. Getting the injured worker back to the same job they had when they got hurt.
  2. Having the injured worker return to a modified position.
  3. Having the injured worker return to an alternative position.
  4. Getting the injured worker to a point at which they can participate in a vocational rehabilitation program.

Who qualifies for work hardening?

In general, if you’ve been hurt on the job, you may qualify for work hardening. Many clients have already made improvements through physical therapy, but they need a more intensive or work-related program to get back to work. A doctor may refer someone for work hardening when they are close to being able to perform their job requirements and have the potential to continue making progress. The client also needs to be medically stable and willing to participate.

Does workers compensation cover work hardening?

The short answer is yes it does. If your injury is work-related and you need work hardening therapy to get back to work, it should be covered under workers compensation. It’s a form of medical care like any other medical benefit. If your doctor feels you need it, you should get it and work comp should pay for it.

What happens at the end of a work hardening program?

When a worker completes the program and is discharged by the therapy team, they have a final evaluation with their doctor. Their doctor can then recommend a return to work. Often the client will continue with a home exercise program with instructions on how to maintain their work readiness on their own.

If you have questions about work hardening or anything else related to Illinois work comp law, please contact us any time at 312-346-5578. We help with cases everywhere in Illinois.