Purpose: This paper presents results from a Campbell systematic review on the nature and effectiveness of workplace disability management programs (WPDM) promoting return to work (RTW), as implemented and practiced by employers. A classification of WPDM program components, based on the review results, is proposed. Methods: Twelve databases were searched between 1948 to July 2010 for peer-reviewed studies of WPDM programs provided by employers to re-entering workers with occupational or non-occupational illnesses or injuries. Screening of articles, risk of bias assessment and data extraction were conducted in pairs of reviewers. Studies were clustered around various dimensions of the design and context of programs. Results: 16,932 records were identified by the initial search. 599 papers were assessed for relevance. Thirteen studies met inclusion criteria. Twelve peer reviewed articles (two non-randomized studies, and ten single group experimental before and after studies), including ten different WPDM programs informed the synthesis of results. Narrative descriptions of the included program characteristics provided insight on program scope, components, procedures and human resources involved. However, there were insufficient data on the characteristics of the sample and the effect sizes were uncertain. A taxonomy classifying policies and practices around WPDM programs is proposed. Conclusion: There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of employer provided WPDM programs promoting RTW. It was not possible to determine if specific program components or specific sets of components are driving effectiveness. The proposed taxonomy may guide future WPDM program evaluation and clarify the setup of programs offered to identify gaps in existing company strategies.
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