Five Best Practices for Return-to-Work Programs

November 13, 2018

Getting injured workers back to work as quickly as possible following a workplace injury can be challenging, especially for small businesses. Nearly 1 million people were non-fatally injured or sick in the U.S. in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On average, workers miss eight days each time they get sick or are injured. This creates a dilemma for businesses, especially smaller operations that usually don’t have employees that can cover for longer absences.

Return-to-work programs have long been recognized as an effective way to help recovering workers transition back to their full responsibilities. Return-to-work programs generally help workers perform “light duty” or “modified” versions of their regular jobs. Sometimes this means a completely different type of job until they are able to manage the position they held at the time of illness or injury.

There are psychological, medical, social and economic benefits for welcoming an injured worker back to the workplace even if they aren’t ready to fulfill all aspects of their jobs. Workers experience less stress, and are relieved to be receiving a paycheck again. Workers also report an increased sense of job security. A returning injured worker has been shown to boost overall company morale.

A study conducted by the New York Department of Labor found that structured return-to-work programs have been shown to reduce the frequency and length of disability, lower medical and indemnity costs, litigation, worker replacement costs and productivity losses. There are five key practices employers can use to create a foundation for an effective experience for all.

1.  Set up a formal program

Clearly define the goals and establish clear and consistent guidelines for the return-to-work program. Don’t expect people to “figure it out as they go along.” Establish expectations, key performance metrics and regular reporting procedures.

2.  Identify potential “light-duty” job assignments for each job category

Take the time to identify appropriate light-duty or modified job duties based on job descriptions, and then seek nonprofit organizations that can offer those types of assignments.

3.  Communicate about the return-to-work program throughout the entire company

Return-to-work programs work best when everyone is clear on what to expect. Supervisors need to understand the process, of course, but having everyone on the same page in terms of how a return-to-work program works and what they can expect if they need help transitioning back to work after a serious injury or illness can make the process much easier.

4.  Maintain open, ongoing communication

Proactive, open communication will help everyone stay on the same page. Make sure the appropriate person discusses the formal return-to-work plan with the transitioning worker, and make sure they understand they are welcome back to work as soon as they are released by their doctor. Keep the lines of communication open with insurers, treating physicians and vocational rehabilitation specialists.

5.  Monitor progress once worker is back to work

The progress of the injured employee in the transitional position should be tracked in order to ensure reasonable accommodations are being made and any issues that may arise are identified and resolved.

Employers need to be aware that they can partner with local nonprofits to build effective return-to-work programs that help recovering employees get back to work sooner and reduce the cost of long-term disability. Following the above five guidelines will help ensure that a nonprofit return-to-work program is successful and a win-win-win for everyone.

Marsh & McLennan Agency (MMA) specializes in employee health & benefits and healthcare insurance. We offer innovative programs for all types of businesses.

Contact us here to learn more about our outstanding healthcare insurance offerings. Our knowledgeable expertise can help determine a program that is right for your organization.