Injured Employees Working Long Hours Face Job Loss Risks

Employees going back to work after being injured on the job face a higher risk of losing their employment if their positions require them to work more than 12 hours a day or 60 hours a week, new research suggests.

Researchers at Ohio State University found those who worked extended hours were 81 percent more likely to be fired and 70 percent more likely to quit than workers returning to conventional, 40-hour-week jobs. The research findings are published in the recent issue of the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

Employees with unconventional work schedules, such as working night, evening, rotating, irregular or split shifts, were 53 percent more likely to be fired. In addition, workers with long commutes of two or more hours a day faced a 377 percent greater chance of being fired following a work-related injury or illness compared to injured employees with shorter commutes.

These findings prompted researchers to urge rehabilitation specialists to tailor injured workers’ return-to-work arrangements based on individual work schedules. Currently, specialists tend to focus on preparing employees to be able to perform their specific job tasks, without taking into account how unconventional work schedules can affect workers’ needs.

“What’s lacking in America is an integrated process to get an injured person back to work that takes into account multiple factors,” said lead study author Allard Dembe. “Right now, there are too many silos in the rehabilitation process. A more sophisticated model is needed.”

Neither rehabilitation specialists nor occupational health case employees typically emphasize “work organization,” which includes employment schedules, supervisory training or other factors that influence the structure of jobs or human resource policies. If such factors were taken into consideration, the research suggests, injured workers re-entering irregular work schedules might be better prepared and be less likely to lose their jobs.

“Present solutions are one- or two-dimensional, and do not take into account the employment schedule,” Dembe said. “Any rehabilitation focusing on the return to work should include this whole picture to facilitate an effective result. We need to expand the thinking about what to do for a successful return to work.”

Dembe and other researchers studied survey data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, an analysis sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and administered by the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University. The data included 110,236 job and health records, which yielded a pool of 5,313 reported work-related injuries and illnesses between 1988 and 2000.

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