Houlton Town Council introduces return to work policy for ill and injured town employees

HOULTON, Maine — Houlton unveiled a new return to work policy for town employees that would allow the town to continue to employ sick or injured employees in lighter duty roles once cleared by a doctor or preferred provider. 

The administrative policy, which was introduced at the town council meeting held on Oct. 13, says that employees cleared for light duty work may be reassigned to any department that has such work available, for a duration of no longer than six months. 

Employees cannot refuse any such work once assigned, and their pay classification, pay increases and benefits will not be affected. No specific position can be created for light-duty work, and all existing positions cannot be designated exclusively for anyone on temporary light duty.

Town Councilor Eileen McLaughlin spoke in opposition to the policy, saying it risked pressuring injured employees into going back to work before being fully recovered. 

“My concern is trying to get ill or injured employees back to work as soon as possible. Sometimes once it is put down as a policy, then it becomes a push,” McLaughlin said. “Having seen this personally, professionally and knowing many people who have struggled with this, I think we really need to consider, is this the right way to go?”

Council Chairperson Jane Torres took a more favorable position toward the policy. 

“You’re not asking people to go back to work to say, do heavy lifting,” said Torres. “You’re just saying there are things they can do by sitting behind a desk. They don’t have to be going out and lifting or running around on the truck.” 

The first reading regarding the return to work policy will be held on Oct. 26. A public hearing to officially adopt the policy will be held on Nov. 9. 

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