Jun 22, 2023

How a Return-to-Work Program Can Contain Costs and Boost Your Bottom-Line

Man showing clipboard explaining workers compensation and return to work program

    How a Return-to-Work Program Can Contain Costs and Boost Your Bottom-Line


    As an employer, you play an essential role in the recovery of injured workers. A properly defined Return-to-Work program is a proven way to decrease an injured worker’s recovery time and assist them in returning to work quickly and safely with temporary and appropriate work restrictions.

    According to ICW, after 12 weeks off the job following injury, roughly 50% of workers do not return.  The reduces to less than 2% after more than one year off the job.

    Below, we will highlight the what, how, and why of a Return-to-Work program to help you understand its importance and the steps you can take to implement it in your workplace.


    The Why:

    A Return-to-Work program can shorten the duration of disability, assist in keeping injured workers functioning effectively in the workplace, and reduce claim costs. By implementing a Return-to-Work program, employers can:

    • Keep employees motivated to recover quickly and maintain their self-esteem and value to the organization.
    • Maintain overall efficiency of operations.
    • Contain claim costs by reducing lost time expenses.
    • Reduce the likelihood of fraud and litigation.
    • Fewer and less costly claims reduce experience modification impact.


    The What:

    A successful Return-to-Work program should first establish job descriptions of usual and customary duties. Employers can then define ways that the duties for each job may be modified to accommodate an injured worker’s medical restrictions.

    It is recommended to provide the existing job descriptions to the medical clinics so that they are readily available for physician review when an injury occurs.

    Then, begin to identify and define temporary work assignments:

    • Modified work involves any changes to the original job that allows the injured worker to perform in that position, such as changing the workstation or tools, removing tasks that the injured worker cannot perform, or reducing the time spent on a particular task.
    • Alternative work involves offering the injured worker a position other than the current job to meet the temporary work restrictions.
    • Reduced hours offer less than full-time work to meet the temporary restrictions, and wage loss will be calculated and provided to the injured worker by your insurance company.
    • Job sharing is a flexible work option where two or more employees share a single job.

    When an injury occurs, employers should report the injury and refer the injured worker for medical treatment and submit the Injured Worker’s Usual and Customary Job Description to the treating physician for review to determine if the worker is able to perform the job duties.


    The How:

    To gain the most out of a Return-to-Work program, employers can develop a comprehensive written policy.   Include the policy as part of the new hire onboarding and provide copies to existing staff.  Leadership should be trained on the policy and process to ensure restrictions are being followed.  HR and/or management involved in claim handling may also proactively meet with their clinic director to gain support and alignment on procedural expectations.

    Oftentimes, how employers manage work-related injuries interplay with Human Resources especially when you are determining safe and acceptable modified work options that are available to an injured worker. In these instances, employers need to keep the interactive process in mind which demonstrates employer good-faith activities and proactive behaviors (e.g., supervisor training on how to handle such issues) that can go a long way to prove your company’s efforts in identifying and promoting an appropriate accommodation such as:

    • Analyzing the limitation of the employee against the specific job position involved to determine what essential job functions are available and select the most appropriate modified work option to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the injured worker.
    • Proactively exploring the range of potential reasonable accommodations to help minimize or remove identified challenges to maintain employment whenever possible.


    Keeping Your Workplace Proactive and Protected

    A Return-to-Work program is an essential component of any workplace. By implementing a Return-to-Work program, employers can shorten the duration of disability, assist injured workers in returning to work quickly and safely, and reduce claim costs.

    As discussed here, to implement a Return-to-Work program, employers should consider the components of an effective Return-to-Work program by:

    • Establishing a bank of job descriptions for each role
    • Establishing a process for reporting injuries
    • And referring injured workers for medical treatment and review

    For more information or clarity on any of these points, you may reach out to our office anytime to discuss a Keep at Work or Return-to-Work program and how it can work for you.

    What "covered" should feel like.

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