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Home > Employers > Return to Work > Making Informed Decisions

Making Informed Decisions About Return to Work

Begin planning now. Be sure you understand how decisions impact your organization financially over time.

Lost workdays are one of the biggest drivers of workers' compensation claims costs. Here are three basic concepts to help you make an informed decision.


Medically required vs. business decision


Top 5 tips for

successful return to work

1. Offer light-duty work
2. Regularly review transitional jobs
3. Fax the Work Ability form to your claims rep
4. Notify your claims rep if you notice "red flags" with the employee
5. Use your SFM resources


Recognize the difference between a work absence that is medically required and a work absence that is a business decision.
  • Only a small fraction of medically-excused days off work is medically required. The rest are discretionary and result from non-medical decisions.
  • A non-medically-related decision to keep an injured employee off work for a prolonged time often reduces the odds of return to full employment and results in poorer medical outcomes.


Longer-term absences cost more

Be aware that a longer-term absence can drive up your workers' compensation costs.

Under state laws, a person who is not working due to an injury on the job is entitled to wage-loss benefits through workers' compensation. In your state, this may amount to two-thirds or half of the person's pre-injury wage.

These wage-loss benefits add up fast and get expensive over time. And can impact your premium.


Return to work is most cost-effective


Red flags to watch for

on the Work Ability form

Bullet "Unable to work"
Bullet "No use of injured body part"
Bullet "Work as tolerated"
Bullet. "No use of hands" or "other body parts"
Bullet Listing significant restrictions
Bullet Dates that are very far out or say that an employee "can't work for one month"

These kinds of restrictions slow the process and delay the employee's return to work.

If you spot these red flags, contact your SFM claims representative or the treating doctor.


Your least-costly approach is return to work, unless your cost analysis or other business considerations suggest otherwise.

To make an informed decision on what to do with your injured employee, you'll need to understand what the treating doctor says the employee can do while recuperating.

To find out what the injured employee can and can't do:

Your objective is to avoid letting workers' compensation wage-loss benefits kick in if the employee is medically able to recuperate while doing some form of work. Timing is everything.

The waiting period—a period of days before wage-loss benefits kick in—is different in each state...

Iowa Minnesota Nebraska SouthDakota Wisconsin


Five best practices

Contemplating your next step with a recuperating employee

  1. Do the math so you understand how your decision will play out financially.
  2. Find out what the employee's medical restrictions allow him to do for you.
  3. Be creative in exploring return-to-work approaches.
  4. Resist making employment decisions in the context of workers' compensation claims.
  5. Make injury prevention a top priority. It's one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary business costs.


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