Woman with arm injury working at computer

What is a Return-to-Work Program?

Every year, nearly three million workers experience a workplace injury or occupational disease,[1] taking them away from work for an average of eight days[2]. When employees get sick or hurt on the job, workers’ compensation insurance helps them get the medical care they need and provides a portion of their lost wages while they recover.

Unfortunately, not every injured employee can return to work in the same capacity as before they were hurt. Still, it is in everyone’s best interest to get injured employees back into productive roles as quickly as their medical conditions allow. That’s where return-to-work (RTW) programs can help.[3] They promote the healing process, relieve mental stress resulting from the injury, increase the employee’s sense of job security, and boost employee morale across the business.

A return-to-work program allows workers who are unable to perform their usual job duties to work in a limited or temporary light-duty capacity. In some cases, this can even involve arrangements where employees volunteer with a non-profit organization rather than work for their employer. There are many benefits to return-to-work programs from the employer’s perspective, including[4]:

Business owners can use the following steps to help create an effective return-to-work program.[5]

  1. Establish a written policy. Business owners should design a policy that reinforces the company’s commitment to encouraging injured employees to return to work as soon as possible. It should also explain to employees the availability of modified duties and the benefits of returning to work quickly, such as restoring their income and maintaining their skills. The policy needs to include language about the need for a return-to-work doctor’s note that details any physical limitations or restrictions the employee may have.

Before drafting a return-to-work policy, consult with an attorney who understands the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and applicable workers’ compensation statues in the states where the business operates. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also provide a comprehensive toolkit with information on these organizations.[6]

  1. Develop a bank of light-duty job descriptions. Light-duty work is transitional and short-term, and is intended to keep an employee engaged and adding value during his or her recovery. Employers can develop a bank of light duties that can accommodate disabled or injured workers, such as administrative duties, organizing and stocking office supplies, or helping train other employees.

In addition, business owners should review each job description and make sure that the basic duties a worker must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation, are clearly outlined. Employers can then modify these permanent descriptions to be light-duty, temporary jobs in the event an employee is injured. When identifying transitional jobs, it is important to keep in mind the nature of the work is meant to be temporary. These jobs should have a time limit, as the intent is to get workers back on their feet and productive while bridging the gap between injury and recovery.

  1. Create an agreement form. Work with your carrier to develop a RTW offer which encompasses the following points:

Even one workplace injury can have devastating impacts on an employer, the business and employees. A return-to-work program can help businesses mitigate the impact and help employees achieve a sense of normalcy as they recuperate. For more information on creating and implementing a return-to-work program, contact EMPLOYERS®[7].

[1] The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Report, 2016. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/osh.nr0.htm
[2] The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2015, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/osh2.nr0.htm.
[3] EMPLOYERS Insurance, Return to Work Program, https://www.employers.com/workers-compensation/return-to-work-program/.
[4] EMPLOYERS Insurance, Return to Work Program, https://www.employers.com/workers-compensation/return-to-work-program/.
[5] The Society for Human Resource Management, How to Create a Return-To-Work/Light Duty Program, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/howtocreateareturn-to-worklight-dutyprogram.aspx.
[6] The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Return-to-Work: Resources for Employees, https://www.dol.gov/odep/return-to-work/employee-resources.htm.
[7] EMPLOYERS Insurance, www.employers.com.