One of the biggest cost drivers in any workers’ compensation claim is the amount of time an injured worker is off the job. That’s why it’s so crucial to get injured workers back to work as soon as possible.
That requires a robust return-to-work program. But it also requires a clear understanding of the process by everyone involved. Unfortunately, not all employers and employees have a good grasp of how the process works, and that can lead to costly misunderstandings.
Here are five common myths about the workers’ compensation return-to-work process that can create barriers to a successful outcome and drive up costs, and action steps employers can take.
#1: The 100 Percent Myth
Some think an injured worker must be able to perform 100 percent of their regular job duties before returning to work. Not true. Generally, the treating physician will provide restrictions the employee must adhere to for a certain time, then slowly lift the restrictions as the worker recuperates.
Employer Action Steps: Identify ways your injured workers can return to work safely within their restrictions, including light-duty, limited hours or responsibilities, or other accommodations.
# 2: The Lazy Worker Myth
Many employers believe injured workers don’t really want to go back to work. While some employees feel disengaged and unmotivated to return to work, and there are cases of outright fraud, these cases represent a small percentage of claims. Most employees want to return to work as soon as possible.
Employer Action Steps: Set expectations early in the process about returning to work. Convey your company’s commitment to providing options for safely transitioning them back into work.
#3: The Expert Physician Myth
Many employers assume treating physicians base work restrictions on a thorough knowledge of the injured worker’s job demands. Not necessarily. Although doctors are experts in their field, they rarely have a detailed understanding of an employee’s job duties. They need guidance from the employer and the injured worker to make informed assessments of the injured worker’s physical capabilities.
Employer Action Steps: Work with the injured worker and treating physician to create a plan for safely transitioning the injured worker back to full job duties. Share detailed job descriptions with the treating physician and let them know what modified duties are available.
#4: The Same Job, Same Department Myth
Many believe an injured worker can only return to the same job in the same department. But sometimes it’s necessary to accommodate an injured worker’s restrictions by moving them to a different position and/or a different department.
Employer Action Steps: Many employees have multiple skills that could be put to use while they slowly transition back into their regular work duties. Develop a cross-organizational return-to-work program that allows them to put their other skills to use temporarily in a modified position and/or different department.
#5: The Isolation Myth
Some believe injured workers need to be isolated to properly recuperate. But studies have shown that injured workers who remain isolated at home can easily slide into depression, feel out of touch with the company, feel more like hiring an attorney, have a longer healing time, and drive up the cost of their claim.
Employer Action Steps: Communicate with injured workers often, let them know you care about their well-being and let them know the company will work with them to ensure a smooth and safe transition back to work.
Don’t let these return-to-work myths derail successful outcomes for your injured employees. Making sure everyone has a clear understanding of the process is the first step toward a successful return-to-work program, one that can help you cut your workers’ compensation costs.
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