Workplace injuries can and do continue to hurt the bottom line for employers. A well-rounded return-to-work (RTW) program can help employers better control the impact and costs of workers being away from the job, while helping employees quickly recover both physically and financially from an injury. The goal is to enable injured employees to be productive during their recuperation and to maintain a connection to the workplace. A RTW program offers advantages to both the business and its workers.
Getting your injured employee back to work as quickly as possible reduces the total cost of the claim, which reduces the reported amount to NCCI and other reporting agencies. For some industries, these numbers have a direct effect on getting new or retaining business and premium cost for all industries.
ADVANTAGES FOR EMPLOYERS:
- Retain Experienced Workers. You can retain valued employees by returning them to the workplace as soon as they are physically able.
- Reduce Employment Cost. You can avoid the cost of hiring and training temporary workers or permanent replacements, by getting your injured employee back to work quickly.
- Better Employee Relations. A successful RTW program shows you care about your employees and their welfare.
- Lower Workers’ Compensation Costs. Injured employees who return to work in a modified capacity, collect fewer disability benefits than they would if they remained home.
- Reduction in Litigated Claims. By keeping engaged with your injured employee through a strong return-to-work program, that employee is not at home feeling devalued and is less likely to retain an attorney.
BENEFITS FOR EMPLOYEES:
- Social Connections. Injured employee returning to modified duty retain their social connections with other employees.
- Financial Security. Most injured employees earn more money by returning to work, as their weekly workers’ compensation benefits only pays a percentage of the injured employee’s wages. This percentage varies from state to state.
- Skill Retention. A RTW program can help injured employees retain valuable skills.
- Better Morale/Security. Injured employees feel more secure about their jobs if a RTW program is in place. They also regain a sense of purpose from a daily work routine.
CREATING A RETURN-TO-WORK PROGRAM:
Creating and implementing a program does not need to be complicated. Here are nine steps you can take to make your return-to-work program more effective:
Before an injury occurs:
- Develop a RTW Team. Designate a person or team to follow your injured employee’s return to work process – explain your return-to-work program/process, obtain RTW slips from the doctor after each appointment which provides current physical restrictions for the injured employee, check in with injured employee and supervisor to ensure the injured employee is maintaining restrictions and make sure your injured employee, as well as your RTW Team is in good contact with the assigned adjuster.
- Job Descriptions/Modifications. Put together good job descriptions. Explore ways your organization can eliminate non-essential functions or modify essential functions of the injured employee’s job. Can you assign a helper for the injured employee to limit bending/twisting/ lifting? Can you put your injured employee in a sedentary job – filing, viewing safety videos, inventory control or monitoring a job site? Be creative!
- Establish a Relationship with a Medical Provider. Your medical provider needs to know what type of restrictions your business is able to accommodate – seated work, one-handed work and physical limitations. Now when an injury occurs, your medical provider is more inclined to assign “light duty” to the injured employee rather than keeping that employee off work.
After an injury occurs:
- Injured Employee Contact. Your RTW Team should contact your injured employee to assure him/her a WC claim has been filed and provide the claim number and adjuster contact information and go over your RTW program.
- WC Adjuster Contact: Your RTW Team should be in good communication with the assigned adjuster regarding your RTW program, work restrictions and injured employee’s progress once he/ she has returned to work.
- Modified Duty. Have the treating physician provide the injured employee a “can do” RTW slip – instead of a “can NOT do” RTW slip. Examples: the injured employee can lift up to 10 pounds, the injured employee can stand up to 4 hours daily or an injured employee can drive. You want to avoid having the treating physician stating the injured is not able to work, with the caveat if the injured employee has a significant injury or recent surgery. Make the treating physician aware you have a RTW program and your willingness to return the injured employee to work.
- Other Work Options. If your organization does not have any light duty opportunities, work with your WC carrier or TPA and explore “farming out” the injured employee for a light duty assignment with a local nonprofit organization or other third party options. Your WC carrier or TPA should have a list of partners they work with for returning injured employees to work. While your injured employee is not working for you, this option still reduces disability benefits paid on the claim and the total cost of the claim.
- RTW Letter. Have your injured employee sign a RTW letter or a bona fide job offer letter, which explains the injured employee’s new duties, current physical restrictions, work schedule, and supervisor. It is recommended a copy of the RTW slip from the treating physician is included. The injured employee will need to sign (accept or reject) a new RTW letter each time restrictions change. Provide this letter to the assigned adjuster each time. This type of letter is required in some states when returning an injured employee to modified work. If the injured employee rejects a bona fide job offer, in most states, he/ she is not entitled to weekly workers’ compensation benefits (wage replacement).
A return to work program has many benefits for the employer and the injured employer. Most programs can be put together with a little effort and some creativity. INSURICA is here to help your organization develop a specific TRW program for you and your employees.
This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.