7 Compelling Reasons to Embrace Early-Return-to-Work (and 7 Steps to Do It Right)

September 03, 2019

As a business owner, your most valuable asset is your workforce. So, when an employee gets sick or injured, it can disrupt productivity, morale, and profits. The longer the injured worker is off work, the more serious and costly the disruption becomes – and the less chance there is of getting the employee back to work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • There’s only a 50 percent chance an employee who is off work for six months will return to work.
  • There’s only a 25 percent chance an employee who is off work for one year will return.
  • If an employee hasn’t returned to work in two years, there’s a significant chance he or she never will.

That can get costly.

The best solution is an early return to work program that provides temporary, transitional, or modified work duties. According to the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, an early RTW program reduces the length of an injured worker’s absence by an average of 3.6 weeks. Even for a permanently disabled employee, a return to work program reduces the average number of weeks off work by 12.6.

An early return-to-work program should be a key component of your overall risk management strategy. Here are seven compelling reasons why:

  1. Most workers want to work. Studies show 80-90 percent of injured employees would rather get back to work than collect disability. An early RTW program facilitates that.
  2. Injured employees win by recuperating faster, having a smoother transition back to regular duty, keeping their paycheck, maintaining confidence and self-esteem, and staying connected to the organization.
  3. Employers win by maintaining productivity, showing the company cares for its workers, and keeping workers’ comp costs from spiraling out of control.
  4. Medical treatment is reduced. The medical component of a workers’ compensation claim is usually the costliest. Getting injured workers back to work early helps reduce medical treatment and overall claim costs.
  5. Legal involvement is minimized. Once an injured worker hires an attorney, costs can only go up. Offering early return to work through light duty makes it less likely an employee will seek legal help.
  6. An effective RTW program is holistic, addressing the physical, emotional, attitudinal, and environmental factors that go along with extended time off work.
  7. Insurance costs are lower. Getting employees back to work faster improves your experience MOD, which lowers your premiums.

Want to do early RTW the right way? Follow these seven steps:

  1. Analyze and describe. Analyze each position in your organization to identify problem areas, and draft complete job descriptions.
  2. Draft your policy statement that formally outlines your intent to get injured employees back to work as soon as they’re medically able, through modified or light-duty work if necessary.
  3. Identify transitional and modified duty jobs, including seasonal and “rainy day” tasks that would meet typical medical restrictions, and draft job descriptions for each.
  4. Assemble your medical team. Establish a relationship with a local clinic where the physicians and staff understand occupational medicine and return to work and share your job descriptions with them. Implement a triage and telemedicine program to streamline claims and keep costs down.
  5. Choose a coordinator such as an HR or safety manager to coordinate workers’ comp claims and the RTW process.
  6. Train staff. Provide all staff with written policies, instruct your supervisors on their roles in the RTW process, and familiarize employees with the process and available benefits.
  7. Review and tweak as needed. Regularly review your program and brainstorm improvements.
  8. Communicate. Keep everyone in the loop about the injured worker’s medical status and physical capacities, and always encourage open communication.

For more tips, check out the Department of Labor’s Return to Work Toolkit.

Ready to cut your workers’ compensation insurance costs? Contact the risk management specialists at Heffernan Insurance Brokers.