Return to Work Tips from the Experts

October 9, 2013 Insurance Topics 2

Most of what I know about return to work comes from experts I have interviewed over the years. Even though returning injured employees back to the job requires effort, they contend that return-to-work is always better than allowing employees to just sit around collecting benefits.

Besides, returning injured workers to work is simply the right thing to do. Return to work is as humane as providing immediate appropriate medical care because workers who do not return to the job face lower salary potential in the future.

There are several reasons for this. The most important reasons, in my view, are that the longer workers are away from the job and feel disconnected from their employer, the harder returning to work becomes and the greater the likelihood they will get help from attorneys.

“Return to work is as humane as providing
immediate appropriate medical care…”

They should also consider paying employees their full salaries instead of state-required workers’ compensation benefit level.

I know that some people will disagree, but I have interviewed employers that do this effectively because they have a strong return-to-work program. Paying employees their salary even when they are off from work also sends an important message to workers that their employers care about them, which can also discourage litigation.

At a basic level, these successful employers maintain contact with injured employees and believe that finding work for them during recovery can be more important than saving compensation dollars. They prepare for return to work before an injury occurs, set clear expectations, consistently monitor employees on modified duty and more.

Here’s more ideas from the experts:

Consider taking the long view. Since workers who spend years loading and unloading heavy objects are more likely to sustain an injury, consider developing career paths for blue-collar workers. Potential career progression jobs include fork life operator or inspector.

Identify modified duty jobs before an injury occurs. Approach each department of your organization to find out what work can be done by someone on limited duty. Constantly update the job list. Each job should include the position’s physical demands to appropriately match the injured employee to the job.

Have a formal written early return-to-work policy. Consider including language limiting the time frames for the light duty as well as cautioning how transitional duty must meet relevant medical restrictions.

Clearly communicate to employees about workers’ compensation. For more advice on this, please click here.

After injury, contact the injured worker as soon as possible. When the immediate supervisor learns of the incident or the claim, whichever comes first, he or she should contact the injured worker within 24 hours. The supervisor can point to assistance for filing a workers’ compensation claim and tell workers they are missed and that accommodations will be made for a transitional job as soon as possible. One employer I wrote about sent flowers to the worker’s home or hospital room. (For more information about the supervisor’s role, please click here.)

Visit the injured worker’s home, after receiving permission from an injured worker, deliver a fruit basket. This personal touch can be more effective than telephone conversations for answering questions about benefits and the process and explaining how family members can support reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI) and returning to work.

Involve the injured worker’s doctor when developing a modified duty job with multiple restrictions. Rather than merely telling the worker about the modified job, put together a team that includes human resources, the supervisor, engineer and employee to work together to anticipate potential glitches.

Informally gather the crew, supervisor, and the employee before putting him or her on transitional duty. This will make it easier to follow the doctor’s orders when everyone is aware of the worker’s restrictions as the employee works up to their MMI.

Ensure supervisors are accommodating rehabilitation plans by granting injured workers permission to elevate their feet, stretch and walk as recommended by the doctor.

To discourage re-injury, require managers to record workers’ activities when they return to the job. Include not only workers’ accomplishments but also tasks that they refuse. A detailed record of abilities and accomplishments could deter non-compliance and discrimination claims.

Encourage workers on modified duty jobs to spend their free time practicing safety exercises instead of sending workers home when they finish their work early. Injured workers can also get more safety training by watching videos or taking safety quizzes.  Perhaps they can share what they learned at a safety meeting. (For more safety tips, please click here.)

Have other tips to share? Please add them in the comments section.

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