Imagine the following conversation:
Q: What is your policy on “Return to Work?”
A: Ahh, we are all for returning injured workers back to work?
Sadly, this is the typical response of most employer representatives when it comes to an important topic. A topic so important it can save your workers’ compensation program countless dollars and reduced litigation costs. If you are one of the many employers or employer representatives who is serious about return-to-work, now is the time to develop a policy that meets the needs of your workforce and keeps the best interests of everyone in mind.
The Role of Return-To-Work
The role of return-to-work in workers’ compensation is multi-faceted. It involves an employer seeking to do what is best for their employees. It also includes people ready to seek creative solutions to complex problems. Time spent on return-to-work is valuable in a number of ways. These include benefits to the employee and employer:
- Benefits for Employees: Most injured workers would rather be in the workforce than stay at home. The seclusion of home has many negative psychological consequences and prolongs recovery times. Additional benefits to the employee include increased earning capacity, a consistent and regular schedule, positive and productive mindset, a strong sense of self-worth and increased security.
- Benefits for Employers: There are numerous considerations beyond increased workers’ compensation premiums that should compel proactive employers to invest in these programs. Other considerations include controlling the hidden costs of prolonged injury, reducing future exposures (including claims for retraining or permanent total disability) maintaining productive work operations and containing costs.
Developing a Proactive Return-To-Work Policy
Here are some important considerations to developing an effective and proactive return-to-work policy.
- Purpose: The policy should outline the general philosophy of the company. It should include how it views all employees regardless of ability. It should also inform workers of their rights and responsibilities following a work injury. It should note that policies covering workers’ compensation issues do not impact or supersede other legal obligations the employer may have under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or disability/leave programs such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Eligibility: This part of the policy will outline the rights and responsibilities of the employer and employee. It should cover important aspects of being out of work or returning to duty with restrictions or a modified position. Important elements to cover include time off to attend doctor appointments and restriction requirements, if applicable.
- Availability of Positions: It should be the goal of every return-to-work program to move a worker back to his or her pre-injury position and wage. In many instances, this is not practical given physical limitations following the work-related incident. In this case, notifying the employee of other job opportunities within the pre-injury employer and other positions is important.
- Transitional Work/Assignments: Many state workers’ compensation laws govern the employee’s eligibility for ongoing wage loss benefits should he or she decide not to accept transitional or modified positions. It is important to spell out the rights and responsibilities of the parties in these situations. Other elements include legal requirements on how the employee is going to receive the offer of modified work and what procedures are required if they dispute the physical requirements of the position.
There is no set template for a return-to-work policy. Other elements may include information on position expectations, termination of assignments, the number of hours open for a position (part-time or full-time) and rate of pay. Interested stakeholders should also consult legal counsel given the employment issues that come into play in these complex matters.
Return-to-work is a complex issue that requires more than a mere moment of consideration by employers serious about reducing workers’ compensation costs. When reviewing your best practices, it is important to consider the development of a policy regarding this issue. Doing so can substantially reduce your workers’ compensation program costs.
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Author Michael Stack, Principal, Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center. .
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.