One of the proven ways to reduce the cost of a workers’ comp claim is to get the injured worker back on the job whenever it is safe to do so.
Preferably, employers should offer some type of modified work duty if they are still recovering from their injury and if that injury impedes them from performing the work they did before the accident.
If workers wait until they are completely healed before returning to work, the cost of a claim with, say, $7,000 in medical expenses can quickly balloon to tens of thousands of dollars as they draw temporary disability benefits, often equal to about two-thirds of their salary.
Not only that, but an extended absence can lead to a disability mindset and the employee, having not worked for some time, may feel disaffected from the workplace and unmotivated to return.
Fortunately, a strong return-to-work program offers a path back into the workforce through light duty and transitional work. To keep costs in check, no workers’ comp program should be without an RTW program.
If you have an RTW program or are considering starting one, here are the top 12 things you should consider, courtesy of the Institute of WorkComp Professionals:
• Understand your state laws about returning an injured worker back to the job and the benefits they are entitled to after taking on transitional or light duty.
• Create an RTW program that outlines the steps the company will take to help a worker get back on the job as soon as it’s feasible after a workplace injury. Discuss transitional duty and light duty in the program documents and distribute copies of it to your staff.
• Be creative in identifying temporary alternative jobs. Appoint an employee-management committee to create temporary alternative jobs. Injured employee jobs should be meaningful, not demeaning or demoralizing – and for sure should not be punitive.
• If you have an injured worker, visit various worksites or departments of you company to identify tasks that are similar to the employee’s existing job.
• Provide the treating physician with job descriptions for any temporary transitional duty and the employee’s regular work.
• Obtain medical restrictions from the medical provider and a release so that you can put them in a job that will not strain them or risk reinjuring them. Be proactive and prepared for the release. Don’t wait to have the release in hand before you begin your process – a delay of even a few days costs you money.
• Encourage treating medical providers to approve temporary alternative duty for injured employees.
• Communicate regularly (at least once a week) with injured employees returning to work for a temporary alternative duty position. (During this time, therapy and treatment may still continue.)
• Inform the worker’s supervisors about the injured individual’s physical limitations from the injury and make sure they don’t push them too hard. Closely follow the restrictions outlined by the doctor, or you risk upsetting the worker, or worse, reinjuring them.
• Continue to pay the injured employee at their regular rate of pay. Consider doing so even if the employee is working partial hours. This will help you avoid paying lost wage benefits and, in many states, reduce future settlements.
• Keep the employee engaged by asking them on a weekly basis about the transitional duty, to identify obstacles or ascertain if they feel they can do more.
• Provide feedback to the physician regarding the progress the injured employee is making at the temporary alternative duty position, to make sure the physician is getting both sides of the ‘story.’ It also conveys the concern you have for your injured employees.
If done correctly, an RTW program can help your worker get back on the job faster, help them feel like they are still part of the ‘team,’ improve morale and reduce your workers’ comp premiums.