Seminar Presentation 8-4

8-4 (Presentation within Topical Seminar 8):
Employer dilemmas in the social responsibility and organization of return-to-work in local workplace practice

Presented by: Christian Ståhl


Seing I1, MacEachen E2, Ekberg K3, Ståhl C4

  1. National Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
  2. Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, Canada and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada
  3. National Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
  4. National Centre for Work and Rehabilitation, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden



Many Western welfare states have introduced early-return-to-work policies, in which getting sick-listed people back to work before they have fully recovered is presented as a rather unproblematic approach. This reflects a belief in the ability of employers and the workplace to solve society's problems of sickness absence. How employers in practical work are managing return-to-work (RTW) in a modern workplace is however a rather uninvestigated and under-theorized research area. The aim of this study is to identify employers’ roles and activities in RTW in local workplace practice.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 matched pairs of supervisors and workers across 18 workplaces. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyze 36 interviews. The analytic approach to study employers’ roles and activities in RTW was based on the three-domain model of social corporate responsibility. The model illustrates corporations’ linkage with their social environment and consists of three responsibility areas: economic, legal and ethical in which corporations’ activities take place.


Employers’ RTW activities intersected the economic, the legal and the ethical domains. While these domains were simultaneously overlapping, it was clear how the economic dominated the employers’ activities in RTW. Economic demands in working life challenged employers’ ability to take social responsibility for RTW. Employers’ RTW strategies consisted of either ‘RTW activities’ or ‘transition activities’ which were applied differently depending on how valued the sick-listed workers were considered to be to their business and character of job (e.g. ready availability of suitable work accommodations). Legal demands had little practical influence on employers’ RTW strategies, since these could support both RTW and transition approaches.


Employers were in a ‘in-between’ position of legal demands to take a rehabilitation role in society and economic demands to meet interests and needs of their business. The employers’ approach to sick-listed workers was dominated by an economic perspective where needs and interests of their business guided their role and activities in RTW.