Returning an employee to work following a work injury reduces workers’ compensation claim costs and improves outcomes. Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that supports these positive outcomes, there are some instances where getting the employee back to work is complicated based on a variety of factors. When this is the case, it is crucial to develop strategies to overcome objections and get the employee back in the workplace.
Reviewing Current Return to Work Policies
It is vital to ensure your return to work policies remain updated and relevant to your workplace. There are many opportunities to review these policies. They can include:
- Ensuring there is a return to work coordinator who has access to all levels of management and can effectuate change;
- Developing a list of options regarding return to work. This can include “work on loan” options and the federal Ticket to Work programs; and
- Procedures that keep the employer in contact with the employee consistently.
Interested stakeholders should also consider developing a brochure about return to work and what it involves. This brochure should outline the roles and responsibilities of all parties in the process. It can explain options and highlight the benefits of returning to work. This can be provided to the employee at the time of injury to consider during the process.
Now is the time to update your return to work policies. Consider what has not worked in the past and make positive changes for a successful future.
Overcoming Objections to Return to Work
The list is endless when it comes to possible objections to return to work. The goal is to overcome these objections and demonstrate it creates a “win-win” situation for everyone.
- Creating a Win for Employees: Studies indicate that employee who returns to work quicker following a work injury remain productive and do not decondition; and
- Creating a Win for Employers: Studies indicate that employers who return employees quicker following a work injury have lower workers’ compensation program costs and retain employees.
Now is the time to find a win for everyone.
Overcoming Common Problems
The empirical evidence demonstrates that effective return to work benefits everyone. Sadly, some people do not see the benefits and create barriers to return to work.
- Failure to Appreciate the Benefits of Return to Work: Interested employers who fall into this category should review the literature regarding return to work and workers’ compensation outcomes. There is countless evidence from various scientific bodies and journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, which have found getting employees back to work following an injury promotes better claim outcomes.
- Emphasize Effective Return to Work Practices: It all starts with a collaborative process. Most return to work programs takes the traditional top-down approach – based on assessing job demands and assigning duties. Effective programs include this approach but supplement it with communication and input from the injured employee. When the injured employee has a say in the process, they feel like they have an ownership stake.
- Overcome Common Employee Objections: Common objections to return to work stem from phycological factors and the treating doctor’s refusal to release the employee to work. By using a collaborative approach, the employee becomes involved in the process – they have a stake in their future. Interested stakeholders can also use physician peer review processes best to determine the level of activity of an employee and the necessity of figure the medical care required. Failing to use physician peer review in difficult circumstances only fails.
Attorneys are also a common barrier to return to work. This is an excellent opportunity to educate opposing counsel on the benefits of returning their client to work while preserving their rights to workers’ compensation benefits. In some instances, parties can seek the assistance of a mediator to help parties discover the countless opportunities and move the process forward.
Now is the time to re-evaluate return to work programs and make changes for the better. It all starts with a review of policies and considers a change in approach. Buy-in at the employer level is critical. Be prepared for the countless other objections and be ready to offer solutions to ensure the process is a success. Implementing an effective return to work program will create a “win-win” and lead to better results for everyone.
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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