With a few exceptions, prevailing data on return to work after coronary artery bypass surgery indicate no gain in employment status for at least several years after the operation. Despite the improved surgical experience and advances in the medical management of postoperative patients, only limited employment benefits occur after surgery, and no gains in work rehabilitation over the past decade have been noted. Several characteristics - preoperative work status, nonwork income, occupation, relief of symptoms, age, perception of health, education and severity of disease - appear to be important for estimating the likelihood of employment after surgery. Other influences, such as attitudes of the family, employers and physicians, undoubtedly alter the probability of return to the work force, but are less well documented. Unless constructive approaches toward work rehabilitation are made, the possibility of return to gainful employment should not be considered an indication for or a necessary consequence of coronary artery bypass surgery.