Every business has safety guidelines in place to reduce the risk of harm to workers. Even with the best safety practices, however, there’s still the chance of an employee being hurt on the job and needing medical attention. Workers compensation insurance, of course, will be a part of that, but many companies understand the value of a formalized Return to Work program. These programs can greatly aid an injured employee’s transition back to full-time work.
Establishing a Return to Work program for your company can be challenging. Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up a formal program.
The Return to Work Program Must Be Clearly Laid Out
A Return to Work program isn’t as simple as telling employees that accommodations are available if needed. The program needs to be fully fleshed out, and needs to actively reach out to employees who are injured on the job. The plan also needs to prepare specific solutions for the different outcomes for an injured worker.
At its best, a Return to Work program will actively search for ways to accommodate an injured worker. When Return to Work programs are able to bring a worker back as soon as they’re medically cleared, it improves morale, saves money, and provides more incentive to return to full-time work upon reaching maximum medical improvement and achieving a full release from the treating physician.
A Return to Work Coordinator can help with not only setting up the Return to Work plan, but also walking injured workers through the process. This person can serve as a valuable point of contact, and can help monitor the injured worker as they go through recovery, allowing them to move to their full-time job when they’re ready. A coordinator is invaluable for both workers and for businesses, and keep the Return to Work program running smoothly.
Transitional Jobs Must Be Defined Clearly
The Return to Work program is intended to give injured workers a less strenuous job designed to accommodate their medical restrictions during their recovery process, which means transitional jobs are necessary. These jobs are used to keep the worker invested in the work environment (and connected to the company), allowing them to contribute to the success of the organization while still recovering.
Transitional job choices are important. There are a few different ways to approach transitional jobs. The first is to have light-duty, limited-duty, and modified-duty assignments for all existing jobs. A light-duty assignment excuses an employee from certain tasks they would normally perform. For example, a light-duty warehouse worker may be assigned to a portion of the warehouse where they won’t need to lean over. A limited-duty assignment cuts the hours of the position, so the employee may work part-time instead of full-time. A modified-duty assignment exchanges certain tasks with other tasks that are easier for the employee. Each of these transitional jobs could accommodate lifting restrictions, bending or twisting restrictions, or other specific limitations imposed by the treating physician.
Another alternative is to have specific jobs on hand to assign to injured workers. Transitional light-duty jobs include administrative work, ordering and stocking supplies, labeling, shipping and packaging, providing training to others, or completing their own training. A formal Return to Work program often presents a good opportunity to have employees complete online training modules in situations where employees travel or work remotely, and the worker’s presence at the office location is infrequent or irregular. Any jobs that are mostly sedentary, require low effort, and are constantly necessary are great transitional jobs.
Permanent Disabilities Need Attention Too
Transitional jobs are just that — transitional. They’re not meant to be permanent reassignments; they’re generally expected to last between 30 and 90 days, and the Return to Work Coordinator can help work with the employee and their physician to decide when they’re able to return to their regular job. There are, of course, instances where an injury or disability doesn’t completely heal, and an employee may not reach a level of medical improvement that allows them to meet the full demands of their former position.
Because the employee is already a part of the work environment, and already knows and cares about the company, it will likely be better to change the employee’s job, rather than terminate a valued, experienced worker. The Return to Work Coordinator can be a huge help with this transition as well. The coordinator can communicate with Human Resources, the employee’s physician, and the employee themselves, and help develop a plan to move the injured employee into a more suitable long-term position.
The Company Needs to Care
One of the most important parts of the Return to Work program is that the employee feels like the company has a vested interest in their recovery. When employees feel as though the company is reluctantly providing as little help as possible, they are less likely to Return to Work. The company then has to spend money to find, hire, and train a new worker.
The Return to Work Coordinator adds value to the team by communicating one-on-one with the injured worker, helping identify challenges and construct solutions. The coordinator can assist in identifying what accommodations are necessary to promote an injured worker’s Return to Work, and help implement the necessary changes to accomplish that goal. For most employers, disability accommodations cost nothing, and for those that incur cost, the typical one-time spend averages $600. Moreover, 74% of employers who decided to implement accommodations rated them as either “very effective” or “extremely effective.” Return to Work programs benefit both the injured worker and the company.
Savings Will Be Mostly Indirect
Saving money is, of course, an important part of any business. Paying an employee full or nearly-full wages for less contribution can seem counterproductive at first, but actually results in long-term savings. With a Return to Work program in place, the employee is able to contribute experience and knowledge while continuing to heal. Returning to work, contributing in a meaningful way, can promote positive mental health in addition to aiding in the physical recovery process.
While hiring a Return to Work Coordinator and providing transitional job opportunities may not seem beneficial at the onset, both choices are providing benefits behind the scenes. Return to Work programs improve the chance that an injured worker will return to full-time employment upon recovery and release from medical care, eliminating the costs of finding, hiring, and training a new employee. This program also shows your staff that your organization cares about employee health and well-being, and is prepared to help them Return to Work, while also being mindful of injuries and disabilities. Both employee morale and employer reputation benefit when a workforce watches a company actively “take care of one of its own.”
Return to Work programs are largely beneficial for both employees and employers. By building a program that cares about employees and welcomes them back after an injury, the company builds a stronger relationship with its workers, saves money, and improves morale.
[Source for $600/74% figure: https://www.dol.gov/odep/Return to Work/employer-background.htm]