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January 30, 2018

Planning Ahead: How to Create a Return-to-Work Strategy

Return-to-work programs get employees back to work approximately 1.5 times sooner than workers who aren’t part of such programs

On-the-job employee injury: It’s a risk that integrators take every day. Although workplace injuries in this industry may be somewhat rare, having a plan in place to safely bring injured employees back to work as soon as possible is crucial to keep business moving forward, reduce lost dollars, and minimize replacement hiring.

Implementing a return-to-work (RTW) program helps you do just that – even if it means modifying work duties temporarily. A RAND Corporation study found that return-to-work programs get employees back to work approximately 1.5 times sooner than workers who aren’t part of such programs.

Return-to-Work Programs
RTW programs provide you with a predefined, step-by-step process to follow in order to safely and effectively return employees back to full-time jobs through transitional tasks. By following the correct process, you can:

  • Optimize your workplace to prevent injuries
  • Eliminate time lost waiting for approval or information
  • Reduce administrative and claim costs
  • Maintain productivity levels among staff
  • Maintain morale by providing appropriate accommodations to injured employees
  • Reduce overall duration of claim

Return-to-Work Best Practices
Through trial and error, best practices for RTW programs have been established. Here, we’ve broken them up into three sections, with the steps to follow to create pre-injury, point-of-injury, and post-injury best practices.

First, develop a policy and publicize it throughout your organization so that everyone is aware of how workplace injuries will be handled. Creating a formal policy for your transitional RTW program sets expectations in advance and ensures that your program is implemented effectively and consistently. This policy should also be included in your employee handbook and incorporated into your new-hire orientation and onboarding. Train all staff in the importance of transitional duty, and clearly define the role that everyone will play; build accountability into performance reviews.

Next, it’s time to define roles and responsibilities. Some organizations assign all RTW program responsibility to a workers’ compensation coordinator (or HR), but participation and support from supervisors and managers is crucial. HR – or the responsible party – should establish a relationship with an occupational medical provider and work with their insurance carrier to identify recommended healthcare networks.

Last, it’s important to keep a transitional duty job bank of meaningful, important tasks that can be tackled by someone in an RTW program. If possible, adjust the injured employee’s normal job to accommodate restrictions. In some cases, however, that isn’t possible. In these cases, assign them to another position, department, or shift.

Point of Injury
When an employee comes to you to report an on-the-job injury, a prompt, caring response is an important first step. Empathy – along with the expectation of a return to work – needs to be communicated.

Next, getting the injured employee to the best doctor for his or her injury ensures a prompt return to employment. This is when the relationships built early on with an occupational medical provider pay off. Provide the injured employee with a return-to-work claim checklist to present to the medical provider for streamlined documentation purposes.

Last, make sure to obtain worker’s restrictions. The medical provider will indicate work restrictions (regarding lifting, bending, or stretching, for example) during the first visit with the injured employee. These restrictions can then be matched to the essential functions of the employee’s job. Other information regarding the claim (such as the employee’s medical file) will not be available to you.

Now is the time to modify the job to accommodate necessary restrictions set by the medical provider. Once these modifications have been made, make a return‐to‐work offer in writing to the employee so you have documentation for your records. In most cases, the employee will be happy to receive the offer and cooperate with no problems. If the employee is uncooperative, however, contact your insurance agent or carrier to troubleshoot ideas.

Then, create a plan for gradually reducing restrictions until the employee is back to full duty (with no restrictions). This can extend from a few weeks to 120 days, depending on the case.

Throughout this time, track the employee’s medical progress and ask the provider to periodically re‐evaluate restrictions.

To learn more about RTW programs, as well as workers’ compensation and experience modification rate (EMR) rates, watch this archived webinar from NSCA Business Accelerator TrueNorth. If you have questions about quickly and safely returning injured employees to work, contact us.

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