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The Importance of Return-To-Work and Light Duty Policies for Injured Employees

At Winters-Oliver Insurance Agency, we work with businesses in many different industries. Two industries that experience more frequent workers compensation claims tend to be home healthcare and human services organizations. While each of these industries serves different populations, they share very similar risk profiles especially around employee injury and workers compensation insurance.

These workers go out each week or sometimes each day to a different environment; usually someone’s residence. While case managers or R.N.’s pre-inspect a new client’s home, they have little control over the ongoing maintenance and safety of the home. Wooden stair rails rot over time and collapse, drinks get spilled on the floor causing slips and sometimes dog’s bite.

All employees need some basic training on how to assess and mitigate environmental risk. We find that most of our human service and healthcare clients do a good job of providing this basic training, but we all know that it is difficult to operate in an accident-free environment. Injuries will occur. For most of these organizations, workers compensation is their largest insurance expense. Many employers believe that once they send the injury report to the insurer the claim is out of their control, but employers can do so much more to control the cost of claims.

What follows are basic steps any employer can take to return employees to full duty faster and better manage workers compensation premiums.

  1. Develop relationships with area medical practices, especially urgent care centers and orthopedic practices. Many states allow for employers to develop a physician panel and require employees to seek care from one of those pre-determined providers once an injury occurs on the job (check the laws in your state). By developing relationships with these providers, the employer has a chance to communicate that light duty work is available, gauge the medical provider’s philosophy towards returning employees to work, and put a system in place so that employees receive consistent care. Many studies have shown that once an employee is out of work for more than six weeks, there is little chance that employee will return to work at all. This can lead to inflated claims or large settlements that effect workers compensation premiums for the next three years.
  2. Make a list of possible light duty tasks that an injured employee could perform and develop job description templates. Things like filing, answering phones, and less physically involved cases come to mind. Light duty usually means part time hours so no need to stress trying to fill a forty-hour week. Building light duty job descriptions should be a running list. As things come to your mind, write them down so that you are not stuck in a position of doing this ad-hoc when an injury occurs.
  3. Communicate to your employees that you have a Return-To-Work program in place, so they know what to expect after the injury. Notifying them as a group ahead of time reduces the likelihood of an employee feeling singled out. In-service and training sessions are an opportune time to communicate the program to employees. Staying engaged with the workforce and a successful return to full duty is very beneficial for the employee’s long-term well-being.
  4. Follow up with the employee and the medical provider who delivered the care. By now both the medical provider and the employee are aware of light duty positions. The medical provider can communicate limits and parameters for light duty work allowing the employer to match the injured employee with a suitable position.
  5. Finally, make sure you are communicating with your workers compensation claims adjuster when bringing employees back on light duty. The claims adjuster will need to offset the insurance company’s portion of lost wages with the light duty wage you are paying to the employee. If executed fairly and consistently, Return-To-Work Programs can be very successful in reducing workers compensation claims and premiums for employers of any size.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. Businesses should consult an insurance professional about the specific circumstances of the business to ensure proper coverage is in place. It is also important to read the policy you purchase to ensure it does not limit or exclude important coverage Winters-Oliver is a boutique insurance agency offering property & casualty insurance and employee benefits to small and middle market businesses.