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Risk in Context

Return-to-Work Programs: Not Just for Occupational Injuries

Posted by Randi Urkov July 25, 2016

Return-to-work programs have long been a cornerstone of employers’ efforts to curb workers’ compensation costs. They’ve also helped reduce injury durations and increase productivity. Yet many employers haven’t yet recognized that the same principles can be applied to employees with non-occupational injuries.

Here are three tips to building effective return-to-work programs for non-occupational injuries.

1. Don’t Distinguish Between Injury Types

Traditionally, many employers have allowed employees with short-term disability claims to return to work only once they fully recover. But workers’ compensation programs typically incorporate formal return-to-work programs that allow employees to perform modified or transitional duty before they’ve fully recovered.

Similarly, through an integrated absence management program, you can manage your short-term disability and workers’ compensation claims. You can return ill or injured employees to work on restricted or modified duty before they fully recover —increasing productivity while reducing costs.

2. Be Prepared for Skepticism

Although return-to-work strategies have a proven track record in workers’ compensation, senior leaders and others could be skeptical of taking the same approach for non-occupational injuries. A common fear: If an employee on short-term disability gets hurt while performing transitional duties, it will lead to a costly workers’ compensation claim. While certainly a possibility in any claim, it’s not common.

Under formally managed workers’ compensation return-to-work programs, employers and treating physicians use nationally recognized disability duration guidelines to facilitate a timely return to work.

After an employer identifies work that meets specific restrictions for the employee, a formal agreement is reached that establishes transitional work parameters. The employee is continually managed through the process to ensure that as restrictions are lifted, gradual increases in work capacity are added.  

Alternatively, if the employee experiences any difficulty or symptoms while engaged in transitional duty, he or she immediately returns to the medical provider for further evaluation.

You can address any lingering skepticism through pilot return-to-work programs aimed at limiting the reccurrence of non-occupational injuries. If you can demonstrate the value of the program in a few locations first, getting senior leadership’s buy-in for a broader rollout may be easier.

3. Continually Monitor Results

Regularly reviewing results and making adjustments as necessary to maintain performance is critical to the success of any non-occupational return-to-work program. As with a workers’ compensation program, you should:

  • Maintain regular contact with your vendors and human resources managers or other designated staff at each location.
  • Conduct regular status reviews of individuals performing transitional duty.
  • Challenge your claims administrators to provide detailed analytics and proactively identify potential program improvements.

Regardless of how injured employees were hurt, return-to-work programs have been proved not only good for employees’ wellbeing but also for business. For more on this topic, listen to the replay of our recent Workers’ Compensation Center of Excellence webcast, Best Practices in Absence Management and Employee Wellness.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Randi  Urkov

Managing Director, Marsh Risk Consulting