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Return-to-Work Programs: How to Get Started

A majority of workers' compensation claims costs are from workplace injuries that result in time away from work. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that a proactive return-to-work (RTW) program can reduce claim costs by an average of $2,300 per claim and reduce lost time by more than 19 days.

A RTW program brings injured employees safely back to work as soon as medically capable. Transitional tasks are matched to the recovering worker's abilities for a specific time frame. This allows the worker to rejoin the workplace sooner—an advantage to both the employer and the employee.

The Benefits 

A consistent, timely and medically-approved RTW program can: 

  • Reduce the experience modification factor, thereby reducing workers' compensation premiums
  • Decrease indirect costs associated with replacing injured employees, which are typically several times more than direct claim costs
  • Promote faster healing while reducing medical and lost-time costs

Employees participating in RTW programs are less likely to become totally or permanently disabled. They're also less likely to seek legal services, helping to control claims costs.

Program Implementation 

There are four steps to get started: 

  1. Write a policy statement and share it with employees
  2. Identify a medical provider
  3. Develop a program with procedures that define roles and responsibilities
  4. Identify transitional tasks suitable for common restrictions

Communication Roles 

An effective RTW program facilitates communication between the workers' compensation claim adjuster, employee and employer. The program should promote timely responses to medical, employment and claims issues. The following communicators play crucial roles in any RTW program.

Claims Adjuster—communicates with the employer, recovering/ill employee, employer's RTW coordinator, medical providers and others involved with the claim. The adjuster is interested in an effective RTW process and closing claims with the best possible outcome.

Employer's RTW Coordinator—contacts the claims adjuster, recovering employee and employee's supervisor within 24 hours of the reported incident and maintains ongoing communication. 

Supervisor—communicates directly with the recovering worker. Supervisors might be the first person made aware of the employee's injury, and they should remain in communication throughout the process. Supervisors work closely with the RTW coordinator and are often the primary source of information for the employee about work-related questions and the availability of transitional work. 

Recovering/Ill Employee—may have questions about workers' compensation claims procedures and RTW policies. The employee communicates changes in their work restrictions to their supervisor and RTW Coordinator.

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