Workers’ Compensation insurance is a significant operating cost for all businesses and companies are continuing looking for ways to reduce the frequency and severity of claims, foster a culture of safety throughout their organization and promote wellness among their employees. A critical component of getting Workers’ Comp costs under control for any type of business is the implementation of return-to-work (RTW) programs, designed to help employees who have suffered work-related injuries or illnesses to return to their previous economic, social, and vocational status. This is especially so today as Workers’ Comp costs continue to rise due to higher medical costs; increases in severity losses such as diabetes, overweight workers, aging workers and permanent total disability claims; and rising payrolls.

Indeed creating a strong RTW program can have a real positive impact on an insured’s premium if done properly. It can help employers gain control, direction and have an increased opportunity for a positive resolution of a claim; retain the services of a valuable trained employee; avoid the replacement and training costs of hiring a new employee; reduce temporary disability payments, which is one of the most expensive components in Workers’ Comp; promote quicker recoveries; reduce medical costs; reduce or avoid litigation; and reduce claims costs.

The elements of a return-to-work program are:

• Short-term modification of work schedule and/or job duties to accommodate restrictions imposed by the employee’s treating physician
• Modifications that vary based on the type of injury, the employee’s present physical ability and limitations, skills, and pre-injury responsibilities
• Progressive return to full duty

Accommodations can range from relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, such as simply moving an employee’s workstation to a quieter area, to the more complex, such as purchasing and installing adaptive equipment. It is important to realize that under the American With Disability Act (ADA), employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees who might otherwise be barred from productive employment, provided the accommodations do not place undue hardship on the employer.

In order for a return-to-work strategy to succeed a company must adopt a formal program that documents the policies and procedures for the transitional work phase through to when employees are back at work full time. The program should include such things as the period of time for temporary accommodation, program eligibility, remuneration for participating employees, and use of overtime. In addition, managers and supervisors must be held accountable for making temporary accommodations for employees in order for a RTW program to be successful. Executive leadership also must be on board and committed to supporting the program.

Also critical to a strong RTW program is having a dedicated coordinator that uses a team approach to work with the company, the injured employee and his/her manager, the Workers’ Comp carrier, and physicians. The coordinator should also understand what types of documentation are needed, and work with the employee’s physicians to obtain clear definitions of restrictions and limitations. This individual should be an expert in the field with knowledge to identify potential job modifications, the ability to explain policy requirements and the ability to serve as an advocate for the company and the injured employee.

IPOA can assist you in the implementation of return-to-work programs for your insureds. Give us a call at 877-653-IPOA (4762).