Planning for Injuries

posted in: Plan 0

Return to Work (RTW) plans are one of those things that you never think of until it is too late to develop one, like a car emergency kit. Once an employee is hurt, you have four work days to sort it out before wage-loss payments start and your workers comp premiums take a hit. That isn’t very long to sort out the documentation or figure out the best way to make use of a restricted employee, so it is best to think it through ahead of time.

RTW plans benefit a business by reducing chaos in the wake of an accident, reducing costs for hiring and training a new employee after an injured employee quits, reducing workers comp premiums, and reducing fraud. At the same time, they are a benefit to the employee: they prevent wage loss (workers comp only pays a portion of the lost wages), maintain the social network, and reassure them that they are valued by their employer. If employees know about RTW plans, it also reduces the stress that follows a serious accident, so discuss them in new-hire orientation.

A RTW plan is designed to facilitate the earliest possible return of injured employees to the workplace to perform meaningful, productive work within the realm of their capabilities as outlined by their medical provider. It includes a Grab N Go kit containing relevant documentation for immediate use, transitional jobs while the employee heals, and employer follow-up.

Once the employee’s medical provider clears them to return to the transitional job you have identified, provide them with a formal job offer spelling out the duties, the temporary nature of the transition (usually 90 days, unless the medical provider has specified some other period), and the need for the employee to follow all medical restrictions. Also note the wage; it doesn’t have to be the employee’s usual wage, but think carefully before decreasing it – it is hard on morale and often a false economy.

Get the employee’s signature on the offer and make sure that they are aware of their restrictions. If an employee chooses not to accept an offer that meets their doctor’s restrictions, then they are not eligible for wage-loss benefits under workers comp.

Once the employee starts the transitional job, make sure that they follow their medical restrictions; don’t let them do more than the medical provider has authorized. You really don’t need to go through this a second time for one injury! Train supervisors and co-workers on what transitional work means so that they don’t pressure the injured employee to do too much.

You should meet weekly with the injured employee and supervisor to make sure that things are going well. Is it going as planned or are adjustments needed? Are any restrictions hard to meet given the assigned tasks? Especially if RTW plans are unusual in your business, adjustments may be needed. Also get an updated work capacity form after each visit the employee makes to their medical provider; it may trigger more changes in the transitional work.

It looks like a headache to set up, but a good Return to Work plan reduces cost for employers and employees, makes employees feel valued, and often helps the company get some backlogged work done. That makes it worth thinking about before you need it.