To successfully carry out transitional work programs, risk managers must convince employees of the benefits of these programs. The most critical element in any return-to-work program is keeping the disabled employee actively involved in the workplace.
When a worker is injured, the employer must maintain contact with the employee throughout the recovery period so he or she does not become “psychologically disemployed.” The phenomenon of “psychological disemployment” occurs when employees are away from the work environment for an extended period. During this period, employees begin to perceive themselves as having become “distanced” from the company — that is, the same company paying their workers’ compensation benefits.
Publicize Return To Work in Positive Manner
To gain employees’ acceptance, transitional work programs must be carried out properly. First, the company should positively publicize the program. This requires ensuring employees understand that transitional work programs will keep them productive during their recovery. Also, a company must apply its return-to-work policy equally to all employees.
Companies can take other steps to convince employees of the benefits of transitional work programs. For example, employers should schedule weekly meetings with the injured employee throughout the injury recovery period. These meetings are a good way to obtain an informal status report concerning the types of physical activities the employee can engage in, the treatments the employee’s physician has prescribed or any problems the employee may be encountering. This weekly contact underscores the company’s expectation that the employee will return to work in some capacity as an active part of the workforce. Weekly progress meetings allow the company to demonstrate its concern about the continued welfare of the employee. The company can also send the employee “Get Well” cards and other remembrances throughout the transitional period.
Doctor – Doctor Communication
Employers should also ensure that the company doctor or physician consultant talks to the injured employee’s treating physician about initiating a return-to-work plan as early as possible. The physician consultant can telephone the treating doctor and discuss the status of an employee’s injury on a doctor-to-doctor basis. Often, treating physicians are more willing to discuss a patient’s progress with another physician. This allows the physician consultant to discuss the medical aspects of the employee’s claim, such as the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan, and then work with the treating physician to establish an estimated return-to-work date. This information can then be communicated to the injured employee to create a transitional duty position within their physical restrictions.
It is critically important return-to-work programs become part of the corporate culture supported 100% by management. Thus, it becomes part of employees’ expectations that if they “go out on workers’ compensation,” they will return to work shortly in some form of transitional work capacity.
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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