For any workers compensation modified duty program or transitional duty program to be effective, it needs to be firmly established in the culture of the organization. When an employer approaches the modified duty program on a claim by claim basis, it creates inequities that are noticed by the other employees. To be effective, the modified duty program needs to be designed prior to the injury occurring and then be utilized in the same manner for all injured employees. By having an established modified duty program that is implemented consistently for ever injury, injured employees, their supervisors, and co-workers all know what to expect.
When the employer sets up a modified duty program, the employer is making a statement to the employees that conveys several things.
- The employer will take care of you if you are injured
- Every worker is important to the success of the employer
- The employer is concerned about the employee’s welfare
- The employer is willing to provide a job within the employee’s medical restrictions to any employee who is able to work, even in a modified duty position
- The employee can maintain their regular wages while they recover from their work related injury
- It is important for every employee who can provide any type of contribution to be at work
The first step in designing a modified duty program is to have someone specifically in charge of the employees returning to work on modified duty. This can either be company wide or on a location by location basis. The modified duty coordinator is often the workers compensation coordinator, the same person that reports the claims to the claims office and arranges the initial medical care in non-emergency situations.
The modified duty coordinator should have access to all job descriptions for all employee positions. By knowing what is expected in each job position, the modified duty coordinator can review the return-to-work restrictions provided by the medical provider and select the pre-established modified duty position that meets the limitations of the injured employee.
When the modified duty program is started, senior management needs to be sure everyone understands the modified duty program is mandatory, not optional. The modified duty program needs to be thoroughly explained to all supervisory personnel. The supervisors and managers of each department need to understand the importance of the modified duty program. When the supervisors understand the modified duty program improves the bottom line by allowing the employer to obtain some productivity from the injured worker, their cooperation with the modified duty program increases.
To identify the positions that can be modified to accommodate injured workers, there are several areas the modified duty coordinator can look. (After the modified duty program has been in place for a while, the coordinator will have a ready list of positions available to match the various levels and types of physical restrictions). The modified duty coordinator can look at job positions that have lower physical requirements within the same department and that allow the employee to do something totally different for either the employee’s department or another department.
- training new employees within their own department
- safety inspections
- inventory control
- light janitorial work
- clerical work
- packing or unpacking
- sorting products
- security guard
- receiving / shipping
- 10. light maintenance work
Allow the employee to continue the regular job but with the assistance of co-workers, for instance when the employee can do their job without heavy lifting and lifting is only an occasional requirement of the current job.
After compiling a list of suitable modified duty positions, pay careful attention to the physical requirements of each job. Know which jobs require lifting and how much. Know which jobs require standing and for how long. Know which jobs require bending, reaching, twisting, and how often. By classifying the jobs by their physical requirements, it becomes much easier to place the injured employee in a job that will match the employee’s limitations and provide a benefit to the company.
The return-to-work job offer should be made by the employee’s supervisor or by the modified duty coordinator as soon as the work restrictions can be accommodated anywhere within the company. Normally the employee will appreciate the opportunity to continue to work while they recover from their injury. If the employee is reluctant to return to work, it is probably because they do not understand that the work will be within the restrictions placed by the doctor. The compliance with the doctor’s restrictions and the benefits of the modified duty program should be explained to any reluctant employee.
When a modified duty position is made available to the injured employee, the employee needs to understand the new position is temporary, not permanent. Most employers place a time limit of 30 days on a modified duty position. If after 30 days the employee has still not been released to full duty, the modified duty coordinator should look at other transitional duty jobs that match the employee’s physical limitations as of their last medical visit.
By creating a modified duty program that meets the needs of the employees and the employer, you create the classic win-win situation that benefits both parties. The modified duty program will allow the injured employee to return to work while recovering and will assist the employer in controlling the cost of workers’ compensation.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers CompensationManagement Program: Reduce Costs 20-50% www.WCManual.com. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.
WORKERS COMP BOOK: www.WCManual.com
WORK COMP CALCULATOR: www.LowerWC.com/calculator.php
MODIFIED DUTY CALCULATOR: www.LowerWC.com/transitional-duty-cost-calculator.php
Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
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