Did you know that the longer an employee is off work due to an on-the-job injury, the less likely it becomes that the employee will ever return to work?
That’s why employers and injured workers benefit from strong return-to-work programs. Even if injured employees can’t return to their regular jobs right away, bringing them back as soon as possible by providing lighter-duty tasks or reduced hours helps them:
- Recover faster
- Stay in the routine of working
- Feel productive
Employers benefit by bringing injured employees back to work as soon as they’re medically able because it:
- Reduces the likelihood of litigation
- Helps control workers’ compensation claim costs, which affect future premiums
The benefits of return-to-work programs are clear. But how do employers make it work, practically speaking? Here are a few strategies from employers that have become old pros at running a smooth return-to-work program:
- Let employees know you have a return-to-work program at orientation. Tell them that if they’re injured, your goal will be to get them good care, and bring them back to work as soon as possible to aid their recovery. This way, they know what to expect.
- Have a plan in place for when an injury occurs. The plan should cover who will report the injury to your workers’ compensation insurer, who will investigate the incident and who will follow up with the injured employee to arrange their return to work. Have manuals (a.k.a. cheat sheets) around with step-by-step directions for what to do. If you’re a round-the-clock operation, address any change in procedures for injuries after hours. This planning is especially important for organizations that don’t have a lot of injuries because without it, your staff will have to scramble to decide what to do.
- Establish a relationship with a preferred medical provider. Meet with the doctors at your preferred clinic to give them an overview of your organization and ensure they understand that you are committed to returning employees to work as soon as they are medically able. Work with a local cab company or similar service to offer transportation to the clinic. In most states, employees have the right to choose their medical provider, however it’s not uncommon for employees to ask their employers for recommendations of where to go. If you’re trying to choose a preferred clinic, see our list of questions to ask a prospective primary clinic.
- Have a packet ready that injured employees can take with them on their first doctor visit. Include a list of light-duty tasks your organization offers, a Work Ability and Return-to-Work form to be filled out by the doctor and your workers’ compensation insurer’s billing instructions and address.
- Think outside the box on light-duty jobs. Employees with medical restrictions might be most useful working outside their regular department, or doing a job that otherwise wouldn’t get done. For example, maybe an injured nurse could help out in the dietary or recreation departments. Ask all your managers, what would you do if you had an extra pair of hands? Use their feedback to create a list of possible light-duty jobs. Try to ensure that injured employees will feel like they’re doing valuable work rather than just wasting time. For light-duty job ideas, check out SFM’s Transitional Work Warehouse.
Note: This article is based on a panel discussion on return-to-work that took place at the 2015 Minnesota Safety and Health Conference. Presenters were SFM Senior Defense Counsel Beth Giebel, Jones Harrison Residence Human Resources Director Judy Christopherson, SFM Loss Prevention Representative Luke Sammon, SFM Claims Technical Specialist Deb Norsten and SFM Marketing Underwriter Specialist Gin McCarty.