The 4 Building Blocks of a Strong Return-to-Work Program


When an employee is unable to work due to an illness or injury, employers are responsible for creating a safe, supportive environment for them to return to. But it doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” approach. There are several ways to take care of employees who are temporarily unable to do their assigned duties to the fullest. It starts with a strong return-to-work (RTW) program.

A return-to-work program allows organizations to bring employees with a short-term illness or injury back to the workplace before they are released to full duty. Generally, a return-to-work program is designed around temporary, modified, light or transitional duty options for an employee who is unable to complete their typical job functions. In some cases, a reduced work schedule may be temporarily offered as an employee regains endurance, increases their stamina or improves their mental health.

Employee benefits

Being at work can improve morale – not just for the injured or sick employee, but for their colleagues, as well. Studies show that when an employee stays at work or returns sooner, they recover more quickly than if they were sitting at home. Feeling included in something meaningful can go a long way for injured or sick employees during their recovery.

Employer benefits

Could access to a strong disability and return-to-work program increase employee loyalty? According to a recent study, over half believe that it could. Employers should consider the costs associated with recruiting and onboarding new talent. It could potentially be more than what it would cost to retain current talent. Not to mention, when an employee is working, rather than being on leave, an employer saves on the high costs associated with short term disability (STD) payments. Additionally, a strong RTW program has benefits from a time perspective. If an employee can return to work following a temporary, modified, light or transitional duty arrangement, the employer may not need to engage in the interactive dialogue that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires.

Building block #1: Define a shared purpose between both the employee and the employer: keeping employees at work or getting them back to the workplace as soon as safely possible.

Building block #2: Ensure managers, supervisors and leadership are policy proficient and understand their role in the RTW process — and hold them accountable. This will help avoid confusion among employees about how to take advantage of the organization’s RTW program should they need access to resources or accommodations.

Building block #3: All responsible departments, including human resources, risk management and workers’ compensation, must be partners in success. Promoting a collaborative atmosphere is essential.

Building block #4: Training and preparing managers, supervisors and leadership provides the tools to reduce litigation risk and ensure that the organization and employees receive the benefits that RTW programs and the ADA afford.

A purposeful return-to-work program can benefit employers and employees alike.

By Adam Morrell

Courtesy of Sedgwick

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