A return to work program has many benefits. As I approach employers and ask them about transitional work duties in regards to their work comp claims some recoil in fear as if to say “Wow are you really so dumb as to risk further injury to your injured worker by having them come back in to work and work at 50% or 75% of full capacity plus you pay them 100% of their wages? You monster!”
Pros of Return-to-Work Far Outweigh the Cons
Yes I would be that dumb. This is because the pros of a return to work program far outweigh the potential cons. Returning to work not only helps the employee physically by getting them off of the couch but mentally as well. It can put their financial books back in order, and not at the stress-induced work comp reduced rate. Mentally employees want to be independent and productive. When you remove them from the work situation a psychological mindset can take hold (Disclaimer—obviously this does not apply to all injured employees) and it actually can become more difficult to return them back to work.
Your company gets the return of the value of productive workers. Even at 50% function, an injured worker can still be productive. It is not like you would be better off if they were not there. Someone has to cover their job when they are out. That someone may be great at doing their own job, but not so great at doing two jobs at once. Production costs can be affected by work comp claims when workers are injured and out of work. If you have 200 employees and 20 of them are out of work, that’s a great chunk of production you have lost. Not to mention that your job must be a decent risk if 10% of your workforce is constantly injured!
So as an employer, what are you to do? You must understand the scope of the problem of keeping injured workers out for weeks, even months at a time. Costs can add up quickly, not only for your tangible production value losses but also insurance expenses, medical expenses of the claim combined with ongoing wage loss expenses, and the overall stress on your functioning workforce that is covering the injured workers’ tasks.
Minor Claims Can Morph into Full Blown Claim Disasters
It is significantly more cost effective to take workers back to work on restrictions than to keep them off for long periods at a time. Even minor claims can morph into full blown claim disasters. The minor fall where the employee jarred their shoulder can turn from a minor med-only claim into a rotator cuff tear that needs one or two surgical procedures. After that they may never fully recover and will require permanent restrictions. What would you do then? Do you accommodate them by creating a position that allows them to keep gainful employment at your facility? Or do you elect to terminate their employment and let the insurance carrier deal with them by settling their claim?
If you decide to return them back to work by creating a job for them, you can be way ahead of the game if the worker is effective at doing this job. If you choose to terminate and let the carrier deal with it, you have a major claim on your hands–one that will not go away cheaply. In addition, you will be constantly reminded of that claim when underwriting comes to figure out your premium cost for the next policy year. It is not just that next year your policy will be affected. It will continue to rear its ugly head for years when your premium is being calculated. All of this could have been avoided if had you decided to be flexible and keep this employee a valuable asset to your firm.
There is No Cost Comparison Between Return-to-Work and Not
If you disagree with this notion you are not alone. Carriers across the board plead with employers to consider getting their injured employees back to work. No matter what the severity of the injury, the longer you can keep an employee working the better off you will be. Yes, those risks of further injury are there, and there is a chance they can become injured again while in the course and scope of their employment—even in a light duty job. But think about the total cost of keeping workers 100% off of work until they are medically released. If you were to measure the two, there is no comparison. Rarely would I ever see an example where a worker at 50% of their function will cost more than just keeping them off, looking solely at their production value and the future effect on your premium.
Of course there are considerations to the rule, especially for super high wage earners who are no longer capable of being as productive as they once were. Remember you do have options. It is not like you have to always pay them their full wage for doing light duty work. If it bothers you this much, drop their pay rate down a bit. As long as they are making equal to or more than their comp rate, you should be decently protected because the worker’s pay would be more than if they were just sitting at home. You are also offering gainful employment, which, if this worker chooses not to accept, then the carrier will deem not to pay them anything due to their work refusal. The best offense is a good defense when it comes to dealing with claims.
So keep an open mind, and think long term instead of short term on costs of light duty work programs. It is not easy to create and maintain a light duty work program. Someone has to create this program, monitor it, enforce the rules, decide the wages, and deal with any issues that come up. But remember in the end, you will always have the advantage by being flexible and providing work than by doing the opposite. Plus your carrier will thank you for your efforts!
Author Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com. Contact: email@example.com.
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