One component of a Return to Work Plan, and a good way to get employees working again as soon as possible, is to provide a light-duty option, often called a transitional job. Taking a little time to think through at least the outlines of how you can accommodate someone who can do some work but not their full job can make it easier to deal with an injured employee when the time comes.
A transitional job is a benefit for both employee and employer. It gets the employee back to work, back to the usual social networks, and allows them to retain the feeling of value that comes from working. It keeps the employee engaged, making it more likely that they will stay with the company over the long haul. It is not a chance for an employee to slack off (you may need to do some education for other employees so they understand that). It should not be not make-work or punishment.
To come up with ideas for good transitional jobs, look around your business. Do you have long-postponed tasks, such as inventorying all the Safety Data Sheets and chemicals, that could be done by someone on light duty? Can the injured employee do light tasks for the employees who are covering for him or her, to make their jobs easier? Are there any cross-training opportunities that would could be done more easily than the employee’s regular job? If nothing else, is there a non-profit that you would like to support that could use the employee’s talents at the approved level of physical work?
The Montana State Fund has a sample letter for offering the transitional job (at the bottom of the page) to an injured employee. It makes clear that the new job does not have to be offered at the employee’s regular salary, and that there can be some incentives for the employee to accept the offer:
Please indicate your acceptance or rejection of this job offer and sign below. If you choose not to accept this temporary assignment as approved by your physician, you may not be entitled to further Time Loss benefits from Montana State Fund. Rejection of this temporary transitional position will be considered your voluntary resignation from the Organization.
Transitional jobs are generally offered for a period of 90 days, unless there is some specific medical reason to change the term. Unless the doctor can identify that the injured employee will never be able to return to full duty, try to give the employee two 90-day transitional jobs before making a decision.