In any working environment, employees face various hazards that can ultimately lead to an injury and a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation insurance, required by most states, is one of the best ways an employer can protect their workers from out-of-pocket medical expenses. When purchased in conjunction with a well-crafted return-to-work policy, businesses can recover financial and production losses quicker.
What Is a Return-To-Work Policy?
Return-to-work policies offer employees who make workers’ compensation claims the opportunity to return to work sooner, even while still recovering. When a work-related injury or illness occurs, going back to work after injury may not be possible for an employee. However, many employees can continue working while following work restrictions prescribed by their treating physician. These restrictions determine what an employee can and cannot do while or after receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
Return-to-work policies offer employees appropriate job duties and alternative working situations that accommodate their medical work restrictions. Such policies encourage employees to get back to work safely and timely fashion. These modified assignments are not permanent solutions. Instead, these return-to-work practices help to reduce the costs involved in workers’ compensation, improve employee morale, and increase productivity.
Common return-to-work accommodations include working part-time, working with modified scheduling, telecommuting, modified duty assignments, and working with the necessary tools and resources to carry out work responsibilities.
How Return-To-Work Policies Work
Employees who are medically released to return to work with restrictions may continue using any skills and abilities unhindered by their injury or illness. Your return-to-work policy should provide clear guidelines, create modified duties or alternate duty assignments, and involve participation from a designated return-to-work team.
Guidelines set within a return-to-work policy should include eligibility, entrance and exit criteria, and a series of transitional job positions or added responsibilities.
Legally, an employer must notify their injured or ill employee of their new position or responsibilities due to their work restrictions in a trackable manner, such as a certified letter. The notice does not need to include specifics on the position offered, pay, or even scheduling information; at the very least, it should disclose that you have a position available within their medical restrictions and provide information on who to contact.
Under a return-to-work policy, employees do not typically return to their previously-held positions. For example, a roofer at a construction company who suffers a broken leg could be assigned administrative duties. Employers must consider the scope of the employee’s most recent restrictions, as documented in official medical records.
The creation of a return-to-work team is essential to protecting the best interests of the business and the injured employee. This team should include several people with strong organizational and communication skills, as well as a strong understanding of the company’s operations and benefit programs. Teams often include supervisory personnel, safety directors, managers, and human resources staff.
Business Advantages of Implementing Return-To-Work Policies
Your return-to-work policy will demonstrate your business’s commitment to your employees. It will provide your workers with the assurance that you care about their well-being. It will also provide a sense of security in knowing there are alternative work options should they become ill or injured, increasing employee satisfaction and retention.
Getting your employees back to the workplace as soon as possible can provide business advantages as well. Accommodations for your employees are typically more cost-effective and better for your overall bottom line. Some of these benefits may include:
- Decreased carrier payouts, which may result in lower insurance rates in the future
- Controlled absenteeism costs
- Reduction of lost productivity
- Saved costs in recruiting, hiring, and training new employees
- Maintaining valuable employees’ skill sets and loyalty
How Return-To-Work Policies Help Employees
An effective return-to-work policy also benefits ill or injured employees. Getting back to work sooner helps employees maintain steady earnings. Also, in many cases, returning to work plays a vital role in the physical and psychological recovery process.
A return-to-work policy will also help employees:
- Ensure they have a quick recovery time
- During the transition, it will make employees feel safe and supported
- Prevent interruption in their salary
- Reiterate and discover simple ways to ensure employees are compliant with safety regulations
- Reiterate the employees’ self-worth
- Get the assurance that they will have their job back
Implementing a return-to-work policy will help to ensure that employees and management are supportive of the program.
How to Help Your Employees Return to Work
While many employees might not return to work after a worker’s comp injury, most of them will return to their job. However, if an employee does not return to work, it can be costly to both the employee and employer. If an employee takes more than 12 weeks off work due to injury, they only have a 50 percent chance of returning to work.
This is why a return-to-work policy is crucial to help you retain a valuable workforce. You will want to identify what job opportunities you have for them to do as they transition back into working.
Take to the employee to see if they have any suggestions as to what job would be suitable for them as they continue to recover. This might include restructuring or reassigning job tasks temporarily. Most likely, this will also mean you will have to provide short-term retraining so they can perform new temporary work.
You also might need to modify their work area to accommodate them or provide adaptive equipment so the employees can efficiently perform their duties. If your business has more than one location, you might want to consider allowing them to work at a new location or adjust their work schedule. When an employee returns to work, it is essential to remain flexible to help them ease back into their job.
Find Your Benefits With a Return-To-Work Policy
Ultimately, your return-to-work policy should account for the specific needs of your business and your employees. Return-to-work policies work best when both the business and employees support the program. To keep up morale and minimize risks related to workplace injuries, continue to support your employees and protect your business by combining a return-to-work policy with your workers’ compensation benefits.