In an ideal world, on-the-job injuries wouldn't happen. But because we don't live in an ideal world, we have workers' compensation insurance. A critical component of workers' comp is a return to work (RTW) program.
"The goal is to return the injured employee to work as quickly as possible," says Sherri Holcombe, a claims analyst for Liberty Mutual. When that happens, everybody wins. The employee is productive and benefits from peer support. The company's financial and productivity losses are reduced. And finally, controlling the cost to insurers helps control the cost of premiums.
If workers aren't totally disabled but can't fully perform their jobs, they may return to modified work or alternate work while they recover. Holcombe says getting back on the job even in a limited capacity helps the healing process.
An effective RTW program isn't complicated, but it requires some planning. Written job descriptions help physicians and caseworkers decide what positions disabled workers can hold. You also need to consider labor union issues, wage differences, and how long the employee can remain in the alternate position. Workers' comp carriers have tools and information for developing an RTW program, and Holcombe recommends putting one in place before you need it. "The more you're educated, the better you're able to react in the event of an accident," he says. "Do some preliminary work so you're ready to respond."
Jacquelyn Lynn is a freelance business writer in Orlando, Florida.
- Liberty Mutual Insurance
(800) 968-5349, www.libertymutual.com