A successful transitional duty/return to work program is much more than having an injured employee answering the telephone or sweeping the floors. Unfortunately, too many employers see a transitional duty program, also known as a return to work program, as a “make work” situation for both the employer and the injured employee. This approach to a return-to-work program often frustrates both employer and employee.
Having the right return-to-work attitude, as well as understanding the various transitional work programs, are the first steps to a successful program.
Alternate or Light Duty Programs
Alternate or light duty programs allow employees to work at less demanding jobs until they are physically able to resume their original work duties. For example, an employee who normally does physically demanding labor could work in a more sedentary capacity, such as answering telephones or taking product inventories.
Modified Duty Program
The second type of transitional work program is the modified duty program, where injured employees’ original jobs are modified through engineering alterations of the workstation. Employers use these programs to prevent aggravation of the injury. For example, an employer could install seats with added back supports and footrests to relieve discomfort for an employee with an injured back.
“Work hardening” is the third type of transitional work program. In these programs, employees perform their usual job-related tasks in steps of increasing difficulty until they regain the physical ability needed to perform their original jobs. This allows the injured employee to remain at work, although at reduced hours. Sometimes, employees in a work hardening program will be placed in a simulated off-site work environment. Here, they perform simulated assignments closely approximating the tasks they perform at their real jobs. Many vendors offer these work simulation programs.
Additional Return to Work Considerations
Transitional work positions can be located in the same or a different department or even in another company or operating division. Some employees perform transitional work program duties in the community as a volunteer in an employer-sponsored volunteer activity or in a commercial vocational rehabilitation return-to-work center. In these instances, employers should provide transportation for the employee to the work facility to demonstrate continued involvement and concern for his or her recovery.
During the return-to-work process, companies need to consider the employee’s physical limitations. If injured workers exceed their physical abilities, they may experience a recurrence of the injury, causing unnecessary pain and suffering for the employee and needless additional workers’ compensation costs for their employers. Also, although employers can use transitional work programs for temporary illnesses and injuries, it is important to remember all absence and disability programs must be integrated with the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Author Michael Stack, Principal, COMPClub, 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 of COMPClub, an exclusive member training program on workers compensation cost containment best practices. Through these platforms he is in the trenches on a working together with clients to implement and define best practices, which allows him to continuously be at the forefront of innovation and thought leadership in workers’ compensation cost containment. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ESSENTIAL: This article is Return-to-Work Essentials content.