Injuries can happen in any workplace, even with the best safety measures established. When an employee is injured, it’s essential to have a plan to help them get back to work as soon as possible while minimizing the costs associated with the injury. A return-to-work program is the solution.
What is a return-to-work program?
A return-to-work program is an employer-implemented program designed to return injured, disabled or temporarily impaired workers to the workplace as soon as medically possible. It enables an employee to resume work while adhering to a physician’s recommended work conditions or restrictions. Transitional or modified duties, which are temporary and productive work tasks, may be provided to facilitate the employee’s gradual, unrestricted return to work.
To create successful return-to-work programs, employers should take a proactive approach by developing a program before it is necessary. Collaborating with medical providers helps to establish appropriately modified work restrictions for each individual.
Benefits for employers and employees
A return-to-work program provides several benefits for employees. It can help to:
- Maintain financial stability
- Preserve long-term earning power
- Speed medical recovery
- Reduce the risk of re-injury
- Provide a sense of job security
- Reduce depression that can result from a prolonged absence from work
Return-to-work programs also offer advantages for employers, such as:
- Reduced claims costs and insurance premiums
- Increased productivity through reduced work delays and business interruptions
- Reduced recruitment and hiring costs
- Enhanced employee morale and retention
Key elements of a return-to-work program
For a well-designed return-to-work program that will help employees get back to work with confidence and success, employers should include the following components:
- A written return-to-work policy and procedures. These should spell out each person’s responsibility in the process, including safety personnel, human resources, supervisors and employees.
- Regular communication with an injured employee. After an injured employee has received medical care, management should call or visit them within 24 hours and maintain frequent contact throughout the injury.
- A discussion of the return-to-work program with the authorized treatment provider. Without a discussion of restricted or modified duties, the attending physician may assume the employee is not capable of performing any work at all.
- Identification of accommodations. Based on the employee’s limitations and abilities, employers can identify any necessary accommodations to make their return to work a success, such as modifications to the workspace, job duties or schedule.
- Progress monitoring. Regular check-ins and performance evaluations help ensure the employee is successfully reintegrating into the workplace and allow for any needed plan adjustments.
- A celebration of the return to work. When the employee resumes work, acknowledge their hard work and dedication throughout the process to boost morale and demonstrate that the organization values employee well-being.
Successfully navigating modified duty
Modified duty allows injured employees to return or remain at work, performing physically-appropriate duties. When considering modified duty, the employer should work with the authorized treatment provider and their claims representative to determine the best possible solution for each specific worker. Considerations may include:
- Comparing the employee’s functional capabilities to the job requirements
- Deciding to what extent the job can be modified
- Identifying other modified-duty opportunities on a limited or full-time basis
Employers can take a positive approach to modified duty by focusing on what employees can do, rather than tasks they can’t perform. This might include:
- Assigning meaningful duties so injured employees maintain their dignity
- Revising current job descriptions to include only necessary tasks
- Assigning tasks that may have been put off because nobody had time to do them
- Temporarily reassigning tasks to free up other employees
- Ensuring employees and their co-workers fully understand this is temporary work
Modified duty assignments should be reviewed regularly in cooperation with the employer’s claims representative and the authorized treatment provider, and shouldn’t last more than a few months for any employee.
Putting return-to-work into place
When initiating a return-to-work program, employers need to train employees and supervisors on injury reporting and the program to make sure everyone understands the process and the benefits. Alternative temporary job duties should be established before a work-related injury occurs. Finally, employers should regularly monitor the program for effectiveness and make changes as necessary.
Through our partnership with Nationwide, Kinetic policyholders receive access to a convenient Return-to-Work Program template and step-by-step implementation checklist to guide them through the process of putting a program in place. It includes steps to take both before and after an injury occurs to help facilitate positive outcomes for employees and the business.
Contact us today to learn more about how we help agents and employers manage risk.