Early Return-to-Work Programs Guide (Spanish)

An employee has been severely injured on the job and will need time to fully recover. He is unable to return to his regular work assignment until he is fully recovered. What do you do? Do you call in temporary help? Do you shuffle schedules around? Do you completely retrain someone to do the job? What do you do if you now have lower productivity and lower employee morale? An early return-to-work (ERTW) program can help answer these questions and provide benefits to you and your employees. An ERTW program should be set up to return injured employees to work in a transitional duty position in the safest and most expeditious manner possible.

Benefits of an ERTW Program

  • Lower workers' compensation costs
  • Decreased employee time away from work
  • Reduced turnover
  • Strengthened employee relations
  • Boosted employee morale
  • Improved overall productivity
  • Enhanced company image
  • Incentive to cross train employees for greater flexibility

ERTW Elements

  1. Assign someone to run the program.
  2. Write a policy statement in non-contractual terms.
  3. Publicize the policy to all employees and at new employee orientation.
  4. Review work assignments to see which might be transitional duty possibilities. (Further review may be necessary at the time you receive a restricted-work release from the doctor.)
  5. Determine acceptable wage levels for transitional duty assignments.
  6. Contact your medical providers to let them know ERTW is available at your company whenever possible. (Contacting the providers as you set up your program will help you to set up a relationship with them and complete any paperwork to help them meet their requirements.)
  7. Follow up daily with the recovering employee to help determine readiness for transitional duty or full return to work.
  8. Keep records to track all efforts and contacts with and on behalf of the recovering employee.
  9. Review your program with your legal counsel to help ensure compliance with applicable laws.

Written ERTW Policy Statement
At a minimum, the policy statement should include:

  • That your company will try to provide transitional duty in the event of a job-related injury.
  • That employees have the responsibility to accept transitional duty that complies with restrictions given by the doctors.
  • That ERTW is a benefit your company provides to help employees who have a work-related injury.

Additional Considerations
Once your ERTW policy is written and you implement your program:

  • Publicize the policy to your employees.
  • Contact your medical providers on each injury before the injured person arrives at the medical facility to remind them that you offer transitional duty. Ask them to keep this in mind whenever they provide medical service to one of your employees.
  • Exchange information with the doctor as to what restrictions may be given and what transitional duty may be available.
  • Contact your claims adjuster on each potential or actual lost-time injury to inform and discuss transitional duty available.
  • Upon the recovering employee’s return to work, review the restricted work release to see that you have the information you need to assign transitional duty.
  • Follow up with the employee daily to assess how recovery is coming.
  • Coordinate the recovery progress with the medical providers to get the employee back to full duty as soon as possible.
  • Remember to be consistent with your efforts and follow up daily to make your ERTW program a success for you and your employees.

Volunteer Return to Work Program
If you are unable to provide an ERTW at your facility, please contact WCF Insurance immediately before your injured employee incurs lost time and ask about the volunteer return to work program. This program is set up to provide recovering employees with work that fits a doctor's restricted work release. These employees may be able to do volunteer work at a nonprofit organization. If these employees are able to be placed at volunteer work, are paid their regular wages and incur no lost time, you are saving money with lower claims cost. Use of this program may help you keep workers' compensation costs down.

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.38
OSHA 29 CFR 1926.35

Additional Resources
WCF Insurance Safety Department
(385) 351-8103

Ask a Safety Consultant


NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.