Preventing accidents is the best way to control the cost of workers' compensation insurance, but even the most conscientious businesses occasionally have accidents. When an accident does occur, returning the injured employee to a form of employment that is equivalent with their abilities is one of the most important goals of any employer. 

A return-to-work program is a practical approach to returning injured employees to a safe and productive work environment. Although injured employees may be unable to perform their regular jobs, they can often do alternative, productive work while recovering fully from injuries.

A return-to-work program can reduce the cost of lost time due to injuries and can keep an injured employee contributing to your organization. Injured employees who stay at work also receive support from coworkers and their injuries disrupt their lives much less.

Companies of any size can implement and benefit from an effective return-to-work program. Here are some tips for creating a successful program:

  • Establish some return-to-work jobs before they are needed.
  • Present the return-to-work process as part of your company's benefit package.
  • Always consider job modification before injured employees have returned to their former jobs.
  • Allow recovering workers to ease into the full work routine.
  • Be positive and flexible. Emphasize what the employee can do.
  • Maintain a positive attitude toward the injured employee.
  • Have employees themselves identify alternative productive work.
  • Spend a few dollars to adapt a piece of equipment now that can save thousands of dollars later and can also keep the cost of a claim much lower.

Return-to-work programs often require modifying tasks or work sites to accommodate injured employees. These unexpected costs are a good investment for two reasons: first, they keep injured employees productive during recovery, and second, they can keep a company from losing experienced employees.

Communication should be a vital component of any return-to-work program. There should be solid communication between you, your injured employee, and healthcare providers about the employee's recovery. Supervisors should demonstrate their concern by keeping in touch with an injured employee. The goal is to get an injured employee back to work and feeling positive about their recovery. It's important to keep in mind that recovery periods vary; returning an injured employee too soon might undermine their recovery.

Design alternative work to fit recovering workers' circumstances. Modify an existing job, reduce the hours of an existing job, or combine tasks from several jobs. Alternative work can be full- or part-time, but should only last until the injured worker is released to the original job.

Tell other employees about the return-to-work process as part of their regular training. Coach workers who are going to be working with a recovering employee. Let them know what the recovering worker's duties are, how long the assignment will last, and how they are expected to help the recovering worker.

It is also important to recognize workers who perform the duties of recovering workers who are unable to work. Make sure supervisors support those employees. Even if temporary employees are brought in, the permanent staff will still be making an extra effort.

A properly executed return-to-work program can reduce the work days lost to injuries, increase employee morale, and save money. It can help you manage your experience modification (emod) factor and, in turn, your workers' compensation premium.

For assistance in implementing a successful return-to-work program, WCF Insurance offers a seminar throughout the year. The seminar is free to our policyholders and gives you the opportunity to learn just how simple it is to initiate a return-to-work program. You will receive a kit that contains examples of a policy statement, information on how to assess job tasks, how to identify alternative productive work, and the importance of communication between you, your employee, and the doctor. To register for a return to work seminar, please click here.

Volunteer Return-to-Work Program
Often employers want to offer modified duty but do not have appropriate positions available. For this reason, WCF Insurance has partnered with various charitable organizations to offer a return-to-work plan that provides modified duty for injured employees. This plan can lower claims costs, decrease workers’ compensation insurance costs, and increase morale. For more information on referring an injured employee to this program, email David Lancaster or call (385) 351-8933.