The claim handler’s main role is to get an injured employee back to work. The timeline on how this can happen depends on a multitude of factors, including the severity of injury, age of the patient, prior injuries to the same area, the diagnosis, and their occupation. Employers and other interested stakeholders are sometimes afraid of returning an injured employee into their workplace. This drives workers’ compensation costs and increases workplace anxiety among other employees. Now is the time to focus on return-to-work efforts to reduce the cost of workers’ compensation, and increase morale.
It All Starts with the Employer
Employers need to take responsibility for return-to-work and make it a central part of their workers’ compensation program. This is because the employer controls a lot of the future for the injured worker. It is time for employers to stop making common excuses and get their injured workforce back into the work environment – even within their own organization.
Make Light Duty Work Available
This is always the easiest excuse to make. Countless studies have shown that injured employees are willing to work and would prefer it to staying at home, watching TV, and doing other stereotypical things that come to mind when someone is off work. The short-term impact is that individual lose confidence and self-worth, and becomes deconditioned. Proactive employers can be creative when it comes to light-duty work. This can include creating a job, which can include maintenance projects or other activities that advance the interests of the employer and keep the individual engaged.
Do Not Fear Work-Related Aggravations
Employers are often afraid of offering light-duty work to an injured employee given the possibility of an aggravation of the underlying work injury. The argument is, “I am afraid my injured employee will aggravate the injury when returning to work.” This is a valid concern. However, these same aggravations could also occur when the employee is convulsing at home. Yes, the risk is there, but not if you as the employer plan accordingly, and be smart about putting the worker back on light duty.
Do Not Fear A New Work Injury
“What if the employee slips or falls?” This is another common concern of employers. Again, injuries can happen anywhere. It all comes down to common sense. Have the employee do something safe. The point is not to have them riding the edge of risk every day until full duty resumes.
Don’t Be Afraid the Injured Employee Will Hurt Someone Else
President Franklin Roosevelt once proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” The modern workplace is filled with risk. However, using common sense when it comes to post-injury employment pays dividends. Return-to-work minimizes the exposure of wage loss being paid on a claim and also reduces medical care and treatment an injured employee may receive.
Injured Employees Are Productive
The productivity of an injured employee is subject to many urban myths and legends. If the employee has a hand injury, it does not make sense to have them packing boxes, taping them, and carrying them out to the loading dock. Everyone can be productive if the circumstances are favorable to their strong points. Be creative!
No Job Description – No Problem
No job description provides an easy out for a claim handler not to seek return-to-work. On the other hand, it is an opportunity for an employer to review all the positions in the company, and create them before injuries occur. It all comes down to the employer’s commitment to saving money.
Don’t Ignore the Value Add
Employers generally have the option of paying an injured employee their full wage for doing something other than their pre-injury position. While the employer does not receive the “full value” of the employee’s work, they do receive the benefit of lower workers’ compensation costs.
There are many excuses when it comes to returning an injured employee to work. At the end of the day, it is your job as the employer to set the tone for being proactive. Team up with your HR department and make those job descriptions. Be creative about light-duty work and what a person can do. It is still better than letting the injured worker control the claim since the only job would be to check the mail for a compensation check.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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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