Five Important Elements of a Strong Return-to-Work Program


When an employee gets injured on the job, helping them return to work as quickly and safely as possible is the top priority. The longer they stay off work, claim costs rise and productivity is impacted. Studies show that the longer an injured employee is off work, the greater the likelihood that they will become permanently disabled. In fact, 50% of people who remain off work for 12 weeks will never return.

A solid return-to-work policy is one of the best tools an employer can have to facilitate the process of getting employees back to work and controlling claim costs. Successful programs are designed to include temporary or modified positions, allowing employees to perform productive work as soon as possible following an injury. These positions offer many benefits including:

  • Reducing overall claim costs
  • Allowing employees to continue to be productive and contribute to the company during their recovery
  • Improving and maintaining communications between the employer, the injured employee and the treating physician, which can lead to a more positive outcome
  • Allowing the employer to monitor the employee’s progress, thereby reducing the likelihood of malingering
  • Promoting greater employee morale and higher retention by reinforcing the employer’s commitment and concern for the injured employee

Also, developing a return-to-work or stay-at-work program with temporary, light or modified duty positions can help employers comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Building a return-to-work program that makes a positive impact

Only a small percentage of return-to-work policies include all of the elements that make up a robust program. The following items can help improve the process and positively impact claims:   

  • Functional job descriptions – These descriptions, as discussed in my previous blog, include the physical demands required by a particular job, and they can help all parties involved (providers, examiners and return-to-work specialists) understand the functionality required to perform the job.
  • Opportunities for temporary light/modified duty positions – These options can help get employees back to work. If an employee is unable to meet the functional job requirements of their position, opportunities for temporary light or modified duty are options to explore. Identifying opportunities available at your worksite that match their current restrictions is a critical step. If opportunities are not available on-site, transitional duty positions at not-for-profit organizations can help keep employees productive as they recover from their injuries.
  • Time limits – It is important for all parties to understand that the position is temporary and is based on the restrictions placed on them by their medical provider. Communicating a specific time limit avoids misunderstandings later that the position was a bona fide job offer. Successful programs will often limit transitional work to 90 days to ensure that employees don’t get confused when they are unable to continue their light or modified duty position.
  • An individual assigned to evaluate claims – Whether these responsibilities are handled in-house or by a return-to-work specialist from your managed care service provider, this role is critical for evaluating claims on an ongoing basis, discussing return-to-work options, and helping employers identify opportunities for light or modified duty.
  • A communication plan – Communicating with all parties is a vital part of a strong return-to-work program. As the employee approaches the Official Disability Guidelines for recovery time, the return-to-work specialist reaches out to everyone regarding the employee’s progress. This includes following up with providers regarding functionality, communicating with the employee about light or modified duty options, and notifying the supervisor of the current status.

With an effective return-to-work program in place, employers can do their part to ensure their injured employees get back on track and are performing work that matches their functional abilities during recovery. Claim costs and productivity are negatively impacted the longer employees are not working. Establishing a return-to-work program enables companies to control costs while helping their employees get back to work as safely and quickly as possible.

By Beth Burry

Courtesy of Sedgwick Connection

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