Imagine the following conversation:
Q: What is your policy on “Return to Work?”
A: Ahh, we are all for returning injured workers back to work?
Sadly, this is the typical response of most employer representatives regarding an important topic. A topic so important it can save your workers’ compensation program countless dollars and reduce litigation costs. If you are one of the many employers or employer representatives serious about return-to-work, now is the time to develop a policy that meets the needs of your workforce and keeps the best interests of everyone in mind.
The Role of Return-To-Work
The role of return-to-work in workers’ compensation is multi-faceted. It involves an employer seeking to do what is best for their employees. It also includes people ready to seek creative solutions to complex problems. Time spent on return-to-work is valuable in many ways. These include benefits to the employee and employer:
- Benefits for Employees: Most injured workers would rather be in the workforce than stay home. The seclusion of the home has many negative psychological consequences and prolongs recovery times. Additional benefits to the employee include increased earning capacity, a consistent and regular schedule, a positive and productive mindset, a strong sense of self-worth and increased security.
- Benefits for Employers: Numerous considerations beyond increased workers’ compensation premiums should compel proactive employers to invest in these programs. Other considerations include controlling the hidden costs of a prolonged injury, reducing future exposures (including claims for retraining or permanent total disability), maintaining productive work operations, and containing costs.
Developing a Proactive Return-To-Work Policy
Here are some important considerations to developing an effective and proactive return-to-work policy.
- Purpose: The policy should outline the general philosophy of the company. It should include how it views all employees regardless of ability. It should also inform workers of their rights and responsibilities following a work injury. It should note that policies covering workers’ compensation issues do not impact or supersede other legal obligations the employer may have under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or disability/leave programs such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Eligibility: This part of the policy will outline the rights and responsibilities of the employer and employee. It should cover important aspects of being out of work or returning to duty with restrictions or a modified position. Important elements to cover include time off to attend doctor appointments and restriction requirements, if applicable.
- Availability of Positions: Every return-to-work program should aim to move a worker back to his or her pre-injury position and wage. This is often not practical given physical limitations following the work-related incident. In this case, notifying the employee of other job opportunities within the pre-injury employer and other positions is important.
- Transitional Work/Assignments: Many state workers’ compensation laws govern the employee’s eligibility for ongoing wage loss benefits should he or she decide not to accept transitional or modified positions. It is important to spell out the rights and responsibilities of the parties in these situations. Other elements include legal requirements on how the employee is going to receive the offer of modified work and what procedures are required if they dispute the physical requirements of the position
There is no set template for a return-to-work policy. Other elements may include information on position expectations, termination of assignments, the number of hours open for a position (part-time or full-time) and rate of pay. Interested stakeholders should also consult legal counsel given the employment issues that come into play in these complex matters.
Return-to-work is a complex issue that requires more than a mere moment of consideration by employers serious about reducing workers’ compensation costs. When reviewing your best practices, it is important to consider the development of a policy regarding this issue. Doing so can substantially reduce your workers’ compensation program costs.
Michael Stack, CEO of Amaxx LLC, is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and provides education, training, and consulting to help employers reduce their workers’ compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is co-author of the #1 selling comprehensive training guide “Your Ultimate Guide to Mastering Workers’ Comp Costs: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%.” Stack is the creator of Injury Management Results (IMR) software and founder of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center. WC Mastery Training teaching injury management best practices such as return to work, communication, claims best practices, medical management, and working with vendors. IMR software simplifies the implementation of these best practices for employers and ties results to a Critical Metrics Dashboard.
Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: http://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.