Does Your Workers' Comp Return-to-Work Policy Need a Revamp?

Learn why you should review your return-to-work policy regularly to see what is working and make adjustments that will reduce employee lost time from work.

As an employer, you’re likely well aware of the residual effects of an employee getting injured on the job—and therefore losing time from work. These effects can range from an increase in disability costs, loss in productivity, and a negative impact on your company’s experience modification rating. As the New Year approaches, it’s a good time to review your current return-to-work policy to determine what has worked so far, and make adjustments as necessary to reduce employee lost time from work.

Woman with Back Pain

Here are a few points to consider:

Conduct Occupational Clinic Tours

Do you know who is treating your employees? The best way to get to know your occupational medical physician and staff is to take a clinic tour. Touring the facility gives you the opportunity to have face time with the physicians and nurses; it’s also a great opportunity to ask questions about the standard procedures related to time off work and modified duty restrictions.  I also find that the physicians like to tour the employer’s site, which helps determine the exact activities your employees are engaged in. It’s a great way to establish a working relationship and set expectations on return-to-work guidelines.

Have a Modified Duty Policy

What’s your policy for situations when you’ve got an injured employee who has received clearance from the physician to return to work in a limited capacity? Do you have a formalized job description to give to the claim examiner or physicians? When crafting a formal policy,  determine what jobs are available with the physician’s specified restrictions, and for how long that job may be available (i.e., 90 days.) Your policy should also specify that the modified duties are temporary; this should not be seen as an ongoing benefit, but rather an opportunity to transition back to full duty.  And, you should require employees to check in and provide a doctor’s note after every visit.

Engage the Employee

You should remain in contact with the injured employee while he or she is away from work. Oftentimes, employees feel as if they’re on an island while they’re recovering from an injury and away from the workplace. In the event your employee is not able to come to work, consider sending a get-well card and have the upper management team sign it.  This sends an “I Care” message to the employee, helps them feel less isolated, and in turn makes them feel valued. Regular phone calls will engage the employee as well.

Extend Your Return-to-Work Program

If you’re unable to accommodate modified duty work restrictions, consider using an outside agency or resource such as ReEmployability. Companies like this can place your injured employee with a non-profit organization that may be able to accommodate the employee’s restrictions for an extended period., thereby helping to improve employee self-esteem and outlook during the recovery phase.

Engage the Claim Examiner

If you have an employee who has been off work for a while, make sure that you communicate your concerns with the claim examiner. The claim examiner can assign a telephonic or field nurse to meet with the doctor and ensure your concerns are heard and that return to work is addressed.

The ultimate goal is to return employees to the workplace as soon as they are medically stable.  A solid return-to-work program benefits both employers and their employees.

Please note: the process of returning employees to work may involve specific state and federal rules and regulations. My advice is to always work with counsel to review the specific facts of an individual’s disability and determine the best course of action.


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