How to Create an Effective Return-to-Work Policy
When an employee takes leave, it can potentially help reduce claim costs for a company and help their employee return to work by having a straightforward return-to-work policy.
A return-to-work (RTW) policy will enable an employee that is injured or on short- to long-term disability to perform a limited-duty role within the company until they fully recover. An effective RTW policy can serve a company by decreasing lost productivity, eliminating the need to train a replacement worker, reducing workers’ compensation claims costs, and more. An employee can benefit from a return-to-work policy by recovering quicker, maintaining their skill set, and securing their paycheck.
Your policy will need to be carefully designed to streamline operations, while supporting the employee’s reentry and assumption of duties, possibly on a limited or progressive basis. Any company should strive to implement an RTW policy, and creating a successful policy will involve establishing an RTW team, modifying job roles, and adjusting tasks as needed.
Create an RTW Team
When an employee returns to work, it could increase workers’ compensation claims costs to throw them back into the role they previously held. The logistics in accommodating these types of employees will need to be carefully considered, and tailored to the capabilities of each employee who is coming back under a return-to-work policy.
A return-to-work team should be in place for both the employer and employee to come together to form a work situation that benefits them both. For a company and employee to come together on the terms of their adjusted employment, a team will have to be devised to express the viewpoints and capacities of both parties. An RTW team for a well-rounded representation of both parties should include:
- Supervisors and/or managers;
- Human resources personnel;
- Occupational health and safety faculty;
- A union representative;
- An insurance agent;
- An employee representative;
- Health care vendor delegates.
All of these roles have responsibilities in understanding what tasks a returning worker can do without straining their illness or injury, making sure these tasks are done efficiently, and hashing out the details of a work schedule, payment, employee procedures and paperwork, and any other subtle details of an employee’s leave that can help them adjust back to work-life — effectively performing their new job role(s) while avoiding exacerbating their illness or injury.
Establish Job Descriptions
It sometimes turns out that a worker returning will be able to perform the same tasks they previously were assigned to do. It will be the return-to-work team’s duty to come to an agreement on the new and adjusted activities in the workplace for their employee.
A return-to-work team’s primary goal will be to maximize an employee’s productivity and effectiveness while minimizing the risk of aggravating an illness or causing re-injury.
This transition will require a look at the available job roles within the company. Especially for large businesses, there is often a position better suited for an employee’s condition, rather than throwing them back into their original role. For this transitional period, consider establishing new job descriptions for your injured employee.
For instance, a returning construction worker who has injured their shoulder will likely not be able to measure, cut, drill, hammer, or any perform any other function of their job that requires extensive arm movement. An RTW team will have to establish new job descriptions for them — perhaps transitioning them into an administrative role to put less stress on their shoulder until it is fully healed and can go back to performing their initial job duties.
Develop Appropriate Job Modifications
In addition to establishing new job descriptions for an employee, a company will need to provide accommodations for their worker. Modifications can include:
- Altering the areas of their workspace;
- Adjusting job roles;
- Training for these new job tasks;
- Equipping the employee with the necessary gear to make their work comfortable;
- Being flexible with the injured employee’s work schedule and location.
It is important to remember that each affected employee will have different needs. Rather than providing a “cover all” policy of accommodations for injured employees, it is best to assess each employee’s needs and provide job-specific modifications for every employee to minimize the risk of further injury, maximize productivity, and avoid violating other employment laws. For further reference, examine the Job Accommodation Network’s Workplace Accommodation Toolkit to ensure you are operating above and beyond the laws established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in assisting injured or ailed employees returning to work.
For the affected employee, a company will need to provide an official written statement of their return-to-work policy. This statement will include:
- The purpose of the policy;
- A starting date;
- Accommodations made under the ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
- Eligibility for full- and part-time work;
- Workers’ compensation benefits;
- A clear definition of the scope of their transitional work;
- An explanation of new procedures and job description;
- An official job offer for the employee’s new role.
For an example of a thorough return-to-work form, visit the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to provide a return-to-work form that complies with the law while informing your employee of the nature of their new role.
Additionally, it will be vital to inform coworkers of an employee who is coming back to work under a return-to-work policy. This can alert co-workers of the employees’ new job role(s), and facilitate a work environment to accommodate them. It will also be the management’s duty to minimize chatter and rumors about the injured worker — questions of whether they are injured, gossip about workers’ comp benefits, and other jabber that may hinder workflow and the image of the affected worker. It will be important to foster a work culture that is inclusive to return-to-work employees.
Once return-to-work procedures are in place, you’ll want to continually track the effectiveness of your RTW policy. To create a truly successful return-to-work policy, you’ll want to examine, compare, and contrast several metrics, including:
- Time lost;
- Re-injury rates;
- Cost for accommodations;
- Time spent in transitional roles;
- Rate of employees in and out of RTW programs.
These metrics will determine whether or not your return-to-work policy will need to be changed to maximize efficiency, lower costs, and reduce the risk of further injury.
Adjust as Needed
Aside from modifying your RTW program for each employee and their capabilities, it will be a good idea to continually adjust if you are seeing that the metrics above are not what you want as a company.
For instance, you may adjust job roles if your re-injury rate is higher than you want, may change job descriptions if productivity is low, and strive to make a quicker transition to make up for time lost. Whatever the case, you’ll want to frequently monitor your RTW program to understand what needs to be adjusted for effective use of company and employee time and effort.
A successful return-to-work program will benefit both employer and employee. It will be essential to put forth and continually adjust your RTW policies to get your employee back to work in a role that is comfortable for them and increases productivity all while remaining compliant with the law. If you are an employee who has been injured without being offered an RTW policy, you may want to consult a local lawyer to see if your employer is operating outside of the law in not allowing you to go back to work in a limited capacity.
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