Creating an effective return-to-work program can leave employers wondering where to begin. Review our comprehensive guidance to assist you in constructing an effective workers’ compensation return-to-work program.
1. Know the Facts
Do your homework. Research and collect information on return-to-work programs and their cost savings potential. Evaluate how to adapt the program to meet your organization’s needs. Utilize the program’s cost savings to convince upper management of its importance. Injured employee claims affect the bottom line through lost productivity, decreased employee morale, claim expenses and eventual increases in insurance premiums.
2. Gather Data
Evaluate your company culture by interviewing internal stakeholders. What are
of their thoughts and perceptions of injuries and utilizing a return-to-work program? This will help determine the workload required to create and maintain an effective return-to-work program.
3. Demonstrate Commitment
Help employees understand that the company’s investment in a return-to-work program is an investment in their recovery process. Communicate how early return-to-work accelerates the recovery process and reduces the potential of permanent disability. All stakeholders should understand the program’s goals, purpose and background. Adoption and commitment from the top down are essential for the success of your return-to-work program.
4. Create Goals
Clear and defined objectives for your return-to-work program will communicate expectations to employees. Explain whether your program will offer transitional duty, alternate duty or a variation of both. Remember that while you may be familiar with these terms, they should be specifically defined. Be sure employees recognize the return-to-work program is a serious initiative.
5. Establish a Team
An appointed return-to-work team will provide leadership, set expectations and establish a communication channel. The team should consist of:
- Vocational rehabilitation specialist—Expert on physical and psychosocial aspects of disability; understands job analysis and supervises return-to-work program administration
- Workers’ compensation specialist (in-house or insurance company)—Provides medical information, problem-solving skills and general support
- Supervisor—Offers modified assignments, facilitates communication and ensures employees do not exceed restrictions
- Labor union leader—Promotes the program to membership, advocates for employees and assists in planning
- Panel physician—Prepares medical treatment plan and endorses early return-to-work program
- HR department—Coordinates with employee benefits, wages, medical leave and workers’ compensation
6. Develop Workflow Process
Use a workflow process to identify next steps and eliminate confusion during the return-to-work process. The flowchart should clearly indicate proper actions for each level and serve as a personalized action plan.
7. Build a Job Bank
Create a list of possible transitional roles for injured employees who return to work. This is essentially a list of usually overlooked tasks, which ideally should be performed. Tasks should vary by levels of physical exertion required.
8. Create Communication & Education Plan
Verify employees are aware of their job responsibilities before and after the injury. To maximize the program’s communication efforts:
- Provide written program descriptions and definitions. Make these items readily available, accessible and readable in multiple languages.
- Maintain job descriptions and job analyses on file for each employee in the event they become injured.
- Review the return-to-work program with employees during new hire orientation and throughout the year.
- Conduct private/personal sessions with injured employees to reiterate expectations and assign transitional tasks
Maintain a transitional duty database to measure the program’s success and make adjustments as necessary. If you are not making adjustments, then you are not monitoring your program closely enough. The database should be used to monitor:
- Number of employees assigned to transitional duty
- Average duration of transitional duty assignments
- Number of employees filing new claims each month and placed in transitional duty
- Medical professional Work Status Reports, indicating a release to transitional duty assignments, including specific employee restrictions
10. Distribute the Plan
Make your return-to-work program easily accessible for all employees. Provide acknowledgement forms to be signed/dated by employees to help reduce liability.
Consider holding a meeting to build support for the program and encourage employees to ask questions. Revisit the plan annually to evaluate the policies and procedures in reflection of the program’s success.
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This is merely a guideline. It is not meant to be exhaustive nor be construed as legal advice. It does not address all potential compliance issues with Federal, State, local OSHA or any other regulatory agency standards. Consult your legal counsel to address possible compliance requirements.