"The biggest employer error is not knowing what's going on in the hospital and when the employee will be able to return," Werther says. It's easier to decide that a back problem is a permanent disability when no one from the workplace seems to care. Instead, Werther and other experts recommend calling the employee several times each week with updates on how things are going at work and questions about how the employee is doing and when she'll be able to return.
"You'll see the person's mood shift significantly," Blaies says. It's especially helpful psychologically if the person doing the follow-up is the employee's immediate supervisor, not someone in the personnel department. That makes the employee feel needed--and less likely to file for total disability.
Likewise, Werther recommends staying in touch with the doctor, who may be someone hired by the insurance company to assess the employee's progress. If the employee is better but not fully recovered, ask when she will be able to do modified work.
As soon as possible, get the employee back to work. If necessary, create a short-term, modified position the person can do while recovering, whether it's part time or less rigorous than the normal job.
These steps not only keep down your workers' compensation costs, but they also help make the most of your investment in your employees.
Steven C. Bahls, dean of Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, teaches entrepreneurship law. Freelance writer Jane Easter Bahls specializes in business and legal topics.