Why Not Return to Work Programs
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The Workers’ Compensation industry has published various studies outlining the value of return to work programs and how they can reduce lost work days, length of treatment and save companies money in the long run. So, the question I pose to you is ‘why not return to work programs?’
Here are three of most prevalent reasons employers have cited for not having return to work programs, and why I think they should reconsider:
- This employee will have a negative effect on employee morale.
When I receive this feedback, my comment is “they probably were having a negative effect on your morale prior to the injury." Nonetheless, this is a valid concern, although I would challenge this position when the return to work program is well managed. Light duty is not meant to be a “cush job”, but rather a variation of the tasks that benefit the employer and allow the claimant to rehab utilizing as many of their talents as possible. While it’s always good to have a library of tasks that can be considered for light duty, the most effective programs truly evaluate the employees’ abilities (physical abilities and skills) and capitalize on the return they can achieve by accommodating the light duty.
- There isn’t any work within those restrictions.
While there are circumstances where placing a person can be difficult, at the end of the day, I have yet to see a company in which every person had time each day to accomplish 100 percent of his or her responsibilities. If this is not occurring, the reality is that there probably is work, although there may be some effort in developing what this looks like – special projects, quality checks, site or office cleanliness are all some that come to mind. I recently dealt with an employer, a seasoned mechanic, who had been given light duty restrictions. While he was unable to do a majority of his job, the fact of the matter was, he could review what the less-seasoned mechanics in the shop were doing and make recommendations (i.e., mentoring). To avoid the risk of having this mechanic not actively participating, he was to document the assistance he provided to reach mechanic on each specific issue. The result was accountability for the employee and growth opportunities for the less experienced mechanics.
- The wages being paid don’t make sense for me to continue paying.
I think this falls into more of a “pay now or pay later” philosophy. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t pay these wages now, you'll certainly pay them later. If you have a fully-insured dollar one program, not accommodating will result in an increase in premiums. In high retention situations, the longevity of the lost time and dollars spent rehabilitating the employee will increase. Finally, for a lot of businesses, their EMR (Experience Modification Ratio) determines who's willing to work with them. The carriers may also be willing to supplement the payment to the employee, which would allow a reasonable wage to be paid for the work being done, and the carrier to reimburse the difference (or TPD – Temporary Partial Disability).
These employees want to get back to work! Not to mention, return to work programs are a win-win for both the employer and employee. Need more great reasons? Check out a recent blog post on Getting Employees Back on Their Feet and Back to Work. And, keep looking for opportunities to engage those employees with light duty restrictions, so you can increase productivity and minimize your risk.
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