Return–to–Work Strategies

Many companies will have, at some point, an employee who is injured on the job. Establishing an effective return-to-work program, benefits both the employee and the company. The worker benefits by being productive again and receiving a salary, and the employer benefits by having an experienced and productive worker back on the job instead of drawing disability benefits, ultimately reducing workers’ compensation costs.

An adequate return-to-work program focuses on three criteria.

I. Make Job Offers in Writing and Be Specific

a. Full accurate job description
As we discussed last week, accurate job descriptions are an essential business component. This is especially true when returning an injured employee to work. The position used to transition an employee back on the job is often a lighter position than they previously performed. The written offer must include the exact hours, pay structure, and benefits for the position. If the pay is less than the worker was receiving when he was injured, include information about any loss-of-pay benefits to which he/she may be entitled.

b. Written medically-necessary restrictions
Depending on the injury, transitioning positions will often need modification to accommodate medical restrictions. In this case, include specific written details in the offer. Clarify every point and ensure that everyone connected understands the modifications.

c. Approval from attending physician
Always obtain written approval from the employee’s physician before finalizing the offer. Keep a copy of approval on file.

II. Insure that the Transitional Work is a Meaningful and a Positive Experience

a. Allow employee to thrive
Your employee has suffered a work-related injury. Recovery involves emotions as well as the physical. Making the transition a positive experience will speed recovery and encourage the employee to thrive.

b. Provide employee a sense of value
Don’t make the mistake of just “finding something to occupy the employee.” Provide a position that has value to the company. This will, in turn, give value to the employee, and convey the message that his contribution, though it is changed, is necessary and vital. Employees who feel valued tend to recover more fully and quicker.

c. Accommodate and encourage recovery
The big picture desire is as full of recovery as possible. By providing a position of value that accommodates medical and injury-related restrictions, you are helping the employee to reach that goal. Although this may initially include shortened work hours, the hoped-for result is a satisfied, recovered, and productive employee.

III. Maintain Frequent Contact with Employee until He/she Returns to Full Employment.

a. Extend regrets and assistance
Extend your regrets over his/her injury. Convey your desire to assist the worker in returning to a position equivalent to his/her role before the injury. Make sure your employee knows how “return to work” benefits him/her. If the injury actually hinders filling out necessary paperwork, arrange for assistance. Be certain that the employee knows that you recognize the injury and are standing beside him/her.

b. Investigate promptly
Respond immediately to the situation when an employee is injured. Speak to the direct supervisor, the injured employee, and any additional witnesses or co-workers who can shed light on the situation. Document all details and your response. Take immediate action, if necessary, to prevent future like situations. By keeping yourself connected with the situation, and your employee connected with the workplace, you will exhibit a caring attitude that benefits the injured employee and the business.
c. Organize and document information for future verification
As you gather appropriate evidence of the situation resulting in an injury, information about the injured employee and his recovery, transition work offers, etc. document everything. File an organized copy of every aspect and make it readily assessable to the necessary parties while maintaining appropriate privacy. In the event that your business’ response is questioned, or even just for future verification, a documented file is crucial.

While effective workplace safety programs prevent many injuries and mutually respectful relationships between employers and employees reduce the number of false work injury claims, injuries still happen. Preparing a well thought out and documented policy for responding to injuries and enacting a return-to-work program will reduce your workers’ compensation costs.

Springborn Staffing is committed to work place safety and return-to-work strategies. Partner with us and build a safety-friendly company in Bangor or Portland, ME.

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