Issue: The longer an employee stays out on workers' comp, the less likely he or she is to return to work.
Risk: Higher workers' comp and associated medical costs; plus more disruption due to extended employee absences.
Action: Use the checklist below to devise your return-to-work plan.
When a valuable employee is injured on the job, what you do, and when you do it, can determine not only when the employee will return to work but also whether he or she will return at all.
Why? The longer employees stay out on workers' comp, says the Workers' Compen-sation Research Institute, the less likely they are to return to their current employers.
A speedy return to work also lowers your workers' comp costs and minimizes the disruption that comes from having a key worker out of the workplace.
Use this checklist to set up your return-to-work plan:
Contact the employee within 24 hours of the injury. Responding quickly shows the employee that you're concerned about him or her. That sets the tone for future communication and will help you lower workers' comp costs.
Establish a relationship with the employee's physician. Eighty percent of doctors base return-to-work decisions on what the employee, not the employer, says about his or her job duties.
A working relationship with the physician right off the bat can help you clear up misconceptions and misinformation about what the job actually entails and your organization's willingness to bring the employee back to work on limited duty if necessary.
Best: Send the doctor a written job description that lists the job's essential functions, where it's performed and its physical requirements. Describe potential alternate or temporary jobs the employee could take on as well.
Communicate regularly with the employee. Call once a week to show that the organization cares about how the recovery is progressing. Let the employee know that he or she is missed and that the organization is willing to make accommodations that will speed his or her return. Remain positive and friendly.
Side benefit: Calling on a regular basis also alerts you when an employee is "double dipping": collecting workers' comp while secretly working another job.
Focus on what the employee can still do instead of what he or she can't. Many physicians will give the go-ahead for an employee to return to work with temporary work restrictions while an injury is still healing. Discuss with the employee's physician and the employee what duties and hours the worker is ready to take on.
Consult with an attorney if you have any doubts about Americans with Disabilities Act orAct issues related to a temporary job assignment.
Enlist the help of your workers' comp insurance carrier. Most insurance carriers will assign a caseworker when a workers' comp claim is filed. The caseworker's medical and vocational background can prove a valuable asset for evaluating an employee's capabilities and developing temporary job adaptations.
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