If you have been injured in an accident at work, your road to recovery may be a bit bumpy. Though workers’ compensation benefits can help cover your medical bills and lost wages, you may still want to consider returning to work when you are able.
Returning to work after an injury generally offers many benefits. You will likely be better off financially, and you will be able to again socialize with your coworkers, which can be helpful to the healing process.
What if you want to return to work under workers’ compensation benefits? How do you go about doing so? We have developed this guide to return to work programs to help you determine whether returning to work is the right option for you and how you can make this transition.
What Is a Return to Work Program?
A return to work program, also referred to as a back to work program, is an organized system intended to bring injured employees back to work safely as soon as they are able. Transitional work tasks are matched to your abilities for a certain timeframe, allowing you to rejoin the work environment earlier.
A return to work program may be the right choice for you if you cannot perform your normal job functions due to an injury or illness. If you can participate in a return to work program, your participation continues until you have fully recovered. Return to work programs establish tasks and duties that are temporary, transitional and medically approved for you to perform during your recovery period.
Your employer may have a clear, written policy for returning to work after a work-related injury or illness. Return to work programs often include light-duty work, which is different from your regular duties. These programs may also include a resumption of some of your essential duties, though not all of your regular duties. Alternatively, a program can include all of your regular duties for a limited number of hours.
Return to work programs typically include the following elements:
- The steps to take following an injury
- Schedule for reviewing the return to work program
- Meaningful work duties rather than simply busywork
- Light-duty positions that are identified before the need arises
- Schedule to monitor your progress and needs while you are away from work
- Handouts detailing the return to work program to be used in the onboarding process for new hires
- Procedures to follow during communication with other parties like supervisors and health care providers
- Procedures about involving injured workers in identifying light-duty assignments suitable for their new limitations
- Policies that ensure light-duty assignments are appropriate for injured workers’ capabilities and do not violate restrictions set by a physician
- Materials produced about accommodation, job modification, workplace design and rehabilitation to communicate the employer’s return to work policies
Return to work programs should be established before they are needed. Guidelines for returning to work can be applied to general health situations like off-the-job injuries and workers’ compensation cases.
Why Are Return to Work Programs Important?
A return to work program can impact how likely an employee is to return to work after an injury. For both employees and employers, return to work programs are essential.
Why Return to Work Programs Are Important for Employees
Return to work programs offer injured employees many benefits. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, which makes wage loss a major concern for countless workers. For many, disruption to their income could spell disaster.
If you work for a company that does not offer a return to work program, this can lead to employee uncertainty. You may wonder whether your employer actually cares about you. If your employer has established a return to work program, you know that your company is invested in your wellbeing.
Why Return to Work Programs Are Important for Employers
Illness and injuries among employees can increase the costs of doing business. Direct costs of an employee injury include:
- Medical treatment
- Increased premiums for workers’ compensation
Indirect costs associated with an employee’s injury or illness include:
- Reduced productivity
- Recruiting new employees
- Training new employees
- Administrative time for completing related paperwork
Since these costs can be significant, it makes financial sense to implement a return to work program that can get employees back to their jobs as soon as possible.
Without a return to work program, employers may face disgruntled employees who are more likely to file a lawsuit. Lawsuits are inconvenient, can tarnish your reputation and can significantly increase costs. With a return to work program in place, employers demonstrate that they want their employees to return. Employees who feel valued are more likely to stay at their job, perform well and speak well of their employer.
A return to work program reduces the length of employee absences. The longer injured or ill employees are away from the workplace, the less likely they may be to return to work. If an employer does not get its employees to return to work as soon as possible, this can add a significant amount of money to the claim and lead to higher premiums. On average, implementing a program reduces the length of employee absence by 38%, or approximately 15 weeks sooner.
Return to work programs offer a proactive method to reduce the impact of injuries or illnesses on a business, contain costs, help ensure employee loyalty and get experienced employees back to work.
Can You Work While on Workers’ Compensation?
Workers’ compensation provides benefits to workers who have been injured on the job. Under workers’ comp, three types of benefits may be offered:
- Wage-loss benefits: Since your injury may inhibit your ability to work, you may be able to receive wage-loss benefits, which can be as much as two-thirds of your salary.
- Medical benefits: You may be eligible for medical benefits, which cover the reasonable costs associated with your injury or illness. Costs that may be covered include emergency treatment, visits to a doctor, medications, diagnostic tests and physical therapy.
- Death benefits: Workers’ families may be provided a death benefit if the worker is killed at work.
Though the laws for workers’ compensation vary from state to state, these laws protect employees who have been injured on the job and protect employers from liabilities that result from worker illnesses, injuries or deaths.
If you can work part-time or perform light-duty work, you may be able to continue receiving workers’ comp benefits after you return to work. These benefits can cover your ongoing medical treatments and close the gap in your wages between what you earned before and after suffering your injury.
Getting Back to Work
When you will be able to return to work following an injury depends on various factors. The most important factor is the opinion of your physician. Once your physician clears you to go back to work, you must return to work.
Best Practices to Expect From an Employer
What should you expect from your employer when you take part in a return to work program? Along with clearly-written procedures that outline the specific actions your employer will take, you may be able to expect the following best practices:
- Contact from your employer: Your employer should contact you as soon as you discover your injury with an explanation of workers’ compensation benefits available to you. Your employer may also help you complete a workers’ comp claim form and may describe the company’s procedures and how these procedures can benefit you.
- Determination of restrictions and capabilities: Your employer will request an assessment of your capabilities from your physician and determine what job activities should be restricted, if any.
- Identification of essential job functions: Your employer will identify your essential job functions. These are the job functions you should be able to perform, and you and your employer should agree on these. If you cannot perform non-essential job functions, they can be eliminated until you fully recover.
- Evaluation of accommodations: Your employer will review your options for accommodations with you. Accommodations may include an ergonomic workstation, part-time work schedule or screen reader software. Your employer will make an offer to you about returning to work. If you cannot return to your job with or without accommodations, your employer may offer an alternative, such as temporary work or a lower-level position.
- Surveillance of your progress: Your employer may also offer you support after you return to work and may adjust your accommodations as you improve.
Tips for Employees to Communicate Progress to Your Employer
Follow the tips below to communicate your progress to your employer.
- Discuss your medical restrictions with your employer: Schedule time to sit with your employer and discuss your medical limitations or restrictions, if you have any. You may be able to avoid misunderstandings if you have concerns about your future job performance.
- Be honest and transparent with your employer: Speak up if you feel that your employer is not making the necessary accommodations to allow you to perform your job assignments successfully or if your employer asks you to perform duties that you are restricted from like repetitive movements or heavy lifting. Be honest with your employer if you are being asked to perform a duty that causes you pain.
- Inform involved parties about work status change: After your physician gives you medical clearance to go back to work, you should inform the workers’ comp insurance carrier and the Workers’ Compensation Board, along with alerting these parties whenever you have a work status change.
Benefits of a Return to Work Program
As an employee, why should you participate in a return to work program? The following are the return to work program benefits for employees and employers.
Benefits for Employees
Returning to work as soon as you are medically able can improve your life financially and socially. Once you decide to go back to work and your physician clears you to return, you may enjoy the following benefits of a return to work program:
- Financial security: By returning to work, most injured employees earn more money. If you have a temporary total disability, for example, you may receive just a fraction of your average weekly wage. Getting back to work can provide you with greater financial security.
- Improved morale: You may feel more secure in your job if you know your employer will facilitate your return to work following an injury. You may also regain a sense of purpose by returning to a daily work routine.
- More active lifestyle: Your doctor may tell you that the best way to fully recover after an injury is to be more active rather than continue to sit at home. Getting back to work can help you create a more active lifestyle, even if you are given light-duty tasks.
- Skill retention: A return to work program may also help you retain your valuable skills and give you a confidence boost by utilizing your skills and abilities again.
- Social connections: If you return to work as soon as you are medically able, you can retain your social connections with your coworkers and friends. Social connections can play just as crucial a role in your recovery as medical treatments and prescriptions.
Benefits for Employers
A return to work program also offers benefits to your employer.
- Reduced turnover: Employers may be able to avoid the costs of hiring and training a temporary worker or a permanent replacement by getting an employee to return to work as soon as they can.
- Retention of experienced employees: Injured employees who stay at home for a lengthy amount of time may grow discouraged and leave the company. Employers may be able to retain their valued employees by getting them back to the work as soon as possible.
- Decreased workers’ compensation costs: An injured employee who returns to work part-time collects fewer disability benefits than employees who remain at home.
- Better productivity: Even if injured or ill employees cannot perform their jobs at full capacity, they will likely be more productive at work than at home.
- Improved employee relations: Employees may feel happier with an employer who develops a successful return to work program, as this program sends a message that the employer cares about employees and their welfare.
Contact The Law Office of William L. Phalen for a Free Consultation
The Law Office of William L. Phalen believes in justice for all. We know that getting justice is not always easy for real working people up against giant insurance companies and massive corporations. These organizations have vast resources and high-profile legal teams, and you deserve a legal representative who can fight for you against these overwhelming odds.
At Phalen Law Firm, we are dedicated to fighting for the rights of those who have been injured or killed. If you are seeking a law firm with expertise in handling cases like yours, contact us at Phalen Law Firm today for a free consultation.