Claim management teams will spend more money on a workers’ compensation claim the longer an injured employee stays off work. Based on this given, it is essential for members of the claim management team to partner with their insured on getting that person back to work in a timely manner. This is the best offense when it comes to defending and reducing exposure on any claim. Now is the time to implement strategies to get injured employees back to work in a timely manner.
Understanding Barriers in Return-to-Work
There are many barriers to returning an employee back to work following a work injury. These parties are multi-faceted and include all interested stakeholders in a workers’ compensation claim. In order to establish an excellent program, it is important to acknowledge and understand them:
- Medical barriers: This can include pre-existing conditions not related to a work injury or post-surgical complications following a work injury. Additional medical care might also be needed in terms of physical therapy and work hardening.
- Employer barriers: Often, this is the result of not having a return-to-work program. There can also be “human resource” issues such as demanding a “global settlement” and voluntary termination of employment.
- Employee barriers: When an employee does not get back to work following an injury, they become de-conditioning. There are also other factors that can include daycare availability during differing hours for open shifts, sudden changes in the job market, and lack of transferable job skills. Perceived restrictions by the employee are also important to consider.
- Legal barriers: Overly aggressive defense counsel can impede return-to-work. They sometimes might view the employee as a liability and not an asset.
These are just some of the challenges that need to be addressed.
Developing an Effective Return-to-work Program
An effective return-to-work program starts with a claim team that recognizes the value of the injured employee and how getting them back to work can reduce program costs. Items to think about should include:
- Extend empathy to the injured employee: Employers should assign a specific point of contact for each employee off work due to an injury. This can be one person with an organization who is responsible for making contact with the employee after they are stabilized and asking about their condition. Sending a “get well” soon card means a lot.
- Understand the employee’s work restrictions: The point of contact within the employer should also obtain information on the employee’s work restrictions. This will allow that individual to review their pre-injury position and determine if they are able to return to it. If not, they can see if modifications can be made, or if other positions within the company are open – even if those need to be modified too. It is important for this person to “think outside the box” and be creative. Modified work can be something more than stuffing envelopes or pushing paper in an office.
- Coordinate with managers and supervisor: The employer point person should also be responsible for contacting the employee’s supervisor and better understand their position. Areas to review can include examining how it can be modified, changed, or altered to place that person back on the same team. Other options can be explored, and communicated with the employee.
- Review options with the claim handler: The employer contact and claim handler should be in regular contact regarding all claim related matters, including return-to-work. This can foster a relationship of cooperation and other resources such as “work on loan” or “Ticket to Work” options. The claim handler might also have a better grasp on potential pitfalls such as Americans with Disabilities and other non-discrimination matters.
It is important for the point person on company return-to-work matters to be in contact and engage the employee during this process. It is important to keep in mind the above-mentioned barriers and think of creative solutions. Documentation should be kept on work return issues.
Creating an effective return to work is the best defense for rising workers’ compensation costs. It takes time, effort, and cooperation between the employer, employee, and claim management team. Interested stakeholders need to be mindful of barriers that exist and fashion a program to overcome these many challenges.
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 the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center , which offers the Certified Master of Workers’ Compensation national designation.
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