Benefits of a strong return-to-work program

Bringing injured employees back to work as soon as their doctor allows it is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.

A strong return-to-work program benefits your employees and your organization. Employees typically benefit from faster recovery, feeling productive, maintaining their routine, and keeping their relationships with coworkers. Employers benefit from reducing the risk of litigation and controlling future workers’ compensation premium increases.

Even when injured employees can’t return to their regular jobs right away, you can bring them back to work as soon as possible by providing modified-duty tasks or reduced hours.

Waiting periods: Your window of opportunity

Workers’ compensation claims that do not result in wage-replacement benefits (called medical-only claims) have less impact on your future premium than lost-time claims.

Whenever possible, you can help claims remain medical-only by bringing employees back to work within your state’s waiting period.

The waiting periods are:

  • Three days in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin
  • Seven days in Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota

To accomplish this, you may have to move quickly. It pays to be prepared.

How to establish a return-to-work program

If you don’t have a return-to-work program already, follow these four steps to start one:

1. Draft your policy.
Formally state that your company intends to bring injured employees back to work as soon as they’re medically able and will provide adaptations or light-duty work when needed. For guidance, see our sample return-to-work program.

2. Appoint a claims coordinator.
This is an individual tasked with overseeing workers’ compensation claims and return to work. Have this person develop a plan for reporting injuries and communicate it to supervisors and employees. For more details, see our CompTalk on claims coordinator duties.

3. Select a primary care clinic.
Establish a good working relationship with a local clinic where the physicians understand occupational medicine and return-to-work. If possible, meet with doctors at your preferred clinic to give them an overview of your organization and tell them you are committed to returning employees to work as soon as they are medically able. Suggest that your employees go there if they’re injured. Note that in most states, employees have the right to choose where to have their injuries treated.

4. Identify transitional jobs.
Light-duty or modified-duty jobs provide opportunities for your employees to return to work even when medical restrictions prevent them from doing their regular jobs. Put together a list of light duty jobs in advance so that you’re ready when an injury occurs. To come up with ideas, ask your managers, “What would you do if you had an extra pair of hands?” You can also find lists of light-duty job ideas broken down by industry.

How to learn more

Check out our sample return-to-work program, more details on establishing a relationship with a medical provider, and more information on how return-to-work impacts future workers’ compensation premiums.

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