As the old saying goes, prevention is the best medicine. When it comes to reducing the cost of workers’ compensation insurance claims, this holds true. Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses is clearly the best method. Even with the best training, equipment and policies, however, the occasional incident may still occur. When this happens, an early return-to-work program can benefit both the employer and the employee.
What is Early Return-to-Work?
Early return-to-work is all about facilitating a smooth transition. Rather than waiting for an injured worker to receive a full medical release, you offer a light duty work alternative (approved by the attending physician) to keep injured employees engaged and onsite at least part time during their recovery.
Why Offer Early Return-to-Work?
When injured employees stay at home, they may begin to feel isolated or depressed. They may imagine that the employer does not want them to return. They see countless plaintiff attorney commercials on daytime TV and they wonder if they should litigate their claims. The combined effect of these factors cause injured workers to “lawyer up” and can delay recovery and inflate claims costs.
What are the Benefits of an Early Return-to-Work Program?
Paying for an injured worker’s lost time is often the biggest expense in a workers’ compensation insurance claim. By offering early return-to-work options to recovering workers, you can slash that expense, or in other words, lower the indemnity costs of a claim. In addition, a proactive early return-to-work policy can help improve relations with the injured employee and may prevent additional claims and problems, including malingering. It can help with employee retention, reducing turnover costs and keeping talented workers at the company.
For the employee, a return-to-work program is also advantageous. It can help the injured worker maintain a routine and a feeling of productivity. This is good for the employee’s physical and mental health. Seeing the worker every day keeps the lines of communication open. It is also financially advantageous for the worker, who can earn more with a light duty wage than by collecting workers’ compensation insurance benefits.
What are the Best Practices for a Successful Return-to-Work Program?
To reap the possible benefits, the return-to-work program must be well managed. There are many issues to consider, and mistakes could make a bad situation worse. Here are some of the best practices for your program.
- Plan ahead. Create an early return-to-work policy and light duty program before an incident occurs. Think about temporary light duty positions you could offer and create job descriptions for them. This will make it easier for the attending physician to approve light duty work when the need arises. Light duty examples include sorting coupons, answering phones, filing, light cleaning, greeting customers or completing training – tasks that need to be completed anyway, but do not exceed the injured worker’s capabilities.
- Be flexible. To accommodate the worker’s injuries, some adjustments may be needed. This could include reduced hours or special tools. When developing alternate duties, focus on what the worker can still offer and create a position that utilizes these strengths and abilities.
- Collaborate with medical providers. Proactively inform medical providers who treat occupational injuries that your organization offers modified duty.
- Educate your supervisors and managers. Make sure everyone understands why light duty is important. Don’t let resentments or misunderstandings sabotage your program.
- Be positive. Remember that a return-to-work program is advantageous for all parties. Get everyone on board with the program to avoid negative attitudes and resulting problems.
- Be safe. Take measures to remedy any issues that led to the initial injury. Also ensure that injured workers are not pushed beyond their limits, leading to additional injuries. Follow all medical advice when determining what is appropriate.
- Don’t leave money on the table. Your state may have a reimbursement program. For example, small employers who make modifications to help an injured employee return-to-work in Texas may be eligible for a $5,000 reimbursement.
- Use the resources available. This will help you create a strong program that is also fully compliant with regulations.
- Your state’s insurance department likely has information on return-to-work programs. For example, the Texas Department of Insurance provides rules, tools and forms.
- The Department of Labor has a Return-to-Work Toolkit. Employers should pay close attention to the section on relevant laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Need more workers’ compensation insurance guidance? Higginbotham can help. Contact us.