3 Quick Tips on Developing a Return to Work Program

Human Resources Risk Management

Let’s face it, employees get injured from time-to-time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported over 882,700 injuries in 2017 that resulted in lost workdays. These lost workdays cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars every year in lost production while also increasing their operational costs. There are many strategies out there to help lower the risks of employee injuries ranging from health and safety training to loss prevention. However, employee injuries can never be avoided 100%.

One strategy which has proven to pay dividends when it comes to employee injuries is a Return to Work Program (RTW). A Return to Work (RTW) Program is a workers’ compensation related program allowing injured employees to perform their usual duties in a temporary, limited, or light-duty capacity while recovering. Employees who are disabled due to a work-related injury can be brought back to the workplace in a modified capacity or put in an alternative role until able to return to full duty. The overall goals of a Return to Work Program are to lower costs related to employee injuries, keep injured employees engaged, and lower the risk of injured workers seeking legal representation due to adverse feelings related to their injuries.

This article highlights a few quick tips that can help your business implement a Return to Work program that immediately benefits for your organization. Let’s take a look.

Put your plan in writing

For any plan to be effective, it must be put in writing and communicated throughout the organization- a Return to Work policy is no different. The plan should apply to every employee at all levels and be easily accessible by anyone who needs further information. Furthermore, a policy in writing is much harder for employees looking to game the employee injury system and take your business for a ride. When policies are in writing and communicated clearly, it not only protects employees, it protects the organization. The first step for any health and safety leader is to collaborate with their legal and human resources leaders to develop a policy which is solid and clear, leaving no room for ambiguity or confusion.

Offer the right position

This is where business leaders need to be creative. A Return to Work Program is only valuable if you have roles for injured employees to fill until they can fulfill their pre-injury duties. Temporary roles for injured employees should be analyzed to make sure it abides by their individual medical plan and does not disturb any present injuries. For example: an employee with a severe burn injury would not be a good candidate to put out in weather conditions or near machinery or equipment which emits copious amounts of heat, this would be rather counterproductive. A better fit would be for this employee to fill in as more of an area consultant, monitoring current operations they are familiar with to see if any areas need improvement. This not only gets the injured employee back on the job, it also empowers the employee by giving them the opportunity to take on new work challenges.

Send an Official Alternate Job Duty Letter

This quick tip comes with legal attachments whereby an employee being fitted for light-duty work must be notified in writing. The law does not state that an alternate job or any specifications be contained in the letter, only that a position has been found that meets the medical restrictions and who the position will report to. An employee refusing to sign the letter gives the insurance adjuster documentation that the employee refuses to come back under light-duty, which can help decrease employers’ wage costs for the injured employee refusing to come back under restrictions.

Wrapping Up

Return to Work policies are a critical component of any organization’s health & safety program. These programs outline plans to get injured employees back to work as soon as possible; in any capacity that helps the organization avoid situations where employees lose motivation or become frustrated with how their employer is handling their medical recovery. Because employees are the most important asset to any organization, business leaders must make a concerted effort to implement programs to keep these assets safe, secure, and happy for the long haul.

Cory Mangum, MBA, CPCU

Risk Manager