How to Avoid “Disability Syndrome” in Workers’ Compensation

Published on Tue, 02/18/2014 - 15:54

When one of your employees gets injured on the job and files a workers’ compensation claim, the prime factor in driving up the cost of that claim is severity – the amount of time the employee is off work. So, from the very beginning, your top priority should be to keep days off work to a minimum by offering modified or transitional work if necessary.

Did you know? The longer a person is out of work, the greater the chance they will NEVER return to work. According to Bureau of Labor statistics cited in, if an employee is off work for an occupational illness for more than one year, there is only a 25% chance they will return to work. If they are off work for two years, there is almost no chance of a successful return to work. 

Don’t let your employees fall victim to “disability syndrome.”

Your employees get at least some of their sense of self-worth and identity from their jobs and their ability to be productive. When an employee gets injured and that ability goes away, it’s easy for depression and fear to set in on top of the physical pain. And if there’s no transitional or modified work available, injured workers can feel isolated, more easily turn to legal representation, and start slipping into a disability mindset.

How can you battle “disability syndrome” and keep claim costs down?

  • Communicate. Communication is crucial to a successful RTW program. Stay in touch with the injured worker, the claims adjuster, the nurse case manager, and healthcare providers to keep apprised of the injured worker’s medical status and physical capabilities.
  • Take charge. Let the doctor know that you’d like to accommodate transitional duty work and facilitate a dialogue about options available. Don’t wait for the doctor, the injured worker or the claims adjuster to call you.
  • Get creative. Don’t assume that there is no light duty work at your worksite. Often, a reduction in hours, or an adjustment in how the work is done can make a difference. For example, can an injured worker sit on a stool instead of standing? Can he or she work for two hours a day instead of eight? Can injured workers complete simple jobs such as sorting coupons, entering data, greeting customers, answering phones or documenting stock returns? It’s worth your time to get creative.
  • Leverage resources. Take advantage of any programs your insurer offers to help with return-to-work. Ask your claims adjuster how partial time loss benefits will impact how much you will pay in wages for light duty work.
  • Set expectations. From the first date of injury make sure workers know you care about their recovery and you want them back on the job as soon as possible because it’s an essential part of the recovery process. When injured employees know exactly what they can expect, you reduce the chance of litigation and fraud.

An aggressive RTW program is the best way to attack the number one cost driver in workers’ compensation claims head-on. Early return-to-work gives your injured employees a sense of job security, boosts their morale and productivity, and helps shift their mental focus from “disability” to “ability.” And that’s a win-win.

To learn more about your RTW options, talk to the workers’ compensation insurance experts at Heffernan Insurance.