The Importance of a Return To Work Program

Workers’ compensation claims continue to rise annually, as they have for the past 20 years. However, premiums have not kept pace with the increasing demand.

Even though California rates rose, overall declining rates are cause for concern. A.M. Best issued a special report on workers’ comp stating “rates have declined every quarter since the start of 2015, with a 4.3% drop in the second quarter of 2016. These quarterly rate declines create some uncertainty on how long the improved underwriting results can be sustained.”

Since it seems clear that rates must increase, business owners need to find ways to reduce claims and claim amounts. One proven way to do so is through a Return to Work (RTW) program.

What is a Return to Work Program?

Basically, a Return to Work program accommodates employees so that they can return to work before they’re fully recovered. Employees may work in a temporary, alternative position or perform limited or light work instead of their normal duties.

Workers may return full or part-time and at full or partial wages. If the employer pays partial wages, workers’ compensation tops up the amount to their pre-injury rate.

How Does It Benefit The Company?

Since injuries and illness increase the cost of doing business, it makes sense to implement a program to improve workplace safety and to return employees to work as soon as possible.

According to the Workers’ Compensation 2008 California Losses and Expenses report, a back injury averages $50,000 for direct costs such as medical treatment, indemnity, litigation, and increased worker’s compensation premiums. This does not include indirect costs associated with illness or injury such as reduced productivity, finding and training new employees, and administrative time needed for handling the paperwork.

Statistics show that the longer an employee is away from the workplace due to injury or illness; the less likely they are to return to gainful employment. If you do not get employees working as soon as possible, it not only adds thousands of dollars to the claim, but it also affects your experience modification, which can lead to higher premiums.

A Return to Work program offers a proactive method to contain costs and reduce the impact of injuries on your business. It also gets your experienced employees back on the job quickly, instead of hiring and retraining. It improves employee loyalty and makes workers feel like they are an important part of your organization.

How Does It Benefit The Employee?

A Return to Work program offers the employee many benefits. A recent Go Banking Rates survey found 49% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Obviously wage loss is a big concern, and for many it could spell disaster.

A company without a Return to Work program creates employee uncertainty. Workers wonder whether the company cares about them, or if they’re simply a burden. In addition, disgruntled employees are more likely to sue, which increases costs and inconvenience and tarnishes your reputation.

On the other hand, an active Return to Work program lets employees know you’re invested in their well-being. It shows them you want them to come back, even if it causes the company some inconvenience. Employees are more likely to perform well, stay at their job, and speak well of the company.

Starting a Return to Work Program

There’s no set formula for a Return to Work program. It can be formal or informal and broadly implemented or reviewed case-by-case. However, follow these best practices for effectiveness.

Put it in writing – Every company differs, so it is important that you detail what your business can do to accommodate an injured employee. This includes written job descriptions for modified duties. Outline company and employee procedures so everyone is on the same page.

Encourage communication – Let everyone know that your company wants people to stay with them. Management, supervisors and employees should communicate freely and work with the case manager, physician, and claims adjuster to monitor progress and speed employee recovery.

Assign a supervisor – Each employee in a Return to Work program should have a designated supervisor(s). They’re accountable for the employee restrictions and they must ensure the employee abides by them.

Hold employees accountable – Employees are important contributors to successful Return to Work programs. Their responsibilities include providing current medical information and working within their medical restrictions.

Set a date for reevaluation – Employee accommodations are temporary measures, so make sure that you set a date for reevaluation.

According to the Job Accommodation Network, 74% of employers using Return to Work programs found them very, or extremely effective. They cost little to implement, but the savings and goodwill they create are enormous.

Helping you create an effective Return to Work program is just one of the many ways that the Gilbert’s team is able to help your organization increase safety and profitability while limiting risks. Contact us today to learn more.

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