Bring back injured employee quickly: A 5-step return-to-work plan

When an employee is injured on the job, what you do—and when you do it—can determine not only how quickly 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, the less likely they will return to your workplace, says the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

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. Follow these five steps to set up your return-to-work plan:

1. Contact the employee within 24 hours of the injury. Responding quickly demonstrates your concern and sets the tone for future communication.

2. Establish a relationship with the employee’s physician. Eighty percent of doctors base return-to-work decisions on what the employees—not employers—say about the job duties. A working relationship with the physician can help you clear up misconceptions and misinformation about what the job actually entails, and show your organization’s willingness to bring the employee back on limited duty if necessary.

Strategy: Send the doctor a written job description that lists the job’s essential functions, where the work is performed and its physical requirements. Describe possible alternative or temporary jobs the employee could take on.

3. Communicate regularly with the employee. Call once a week to show the organization cares about how the recovery is progressing. Let employees know they’re missed and that the organization is willing to make accommodations that will speed the return. Remain positive and friendly.

A side benefit: Calling on a regular basis also can tip you off if an employee is “double dipping”—collecting workers’ comp while secretly working another job.

4. Focus on what the employee still can do instead of what he or she can’t do. Many physicians will give the go-ahead for an employee to return to work with temporary restrictions while an injury is 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 ADA or FMLA issues related to a temporary job assignment.

5. Enlist the help of your workers’ comp insurance carrier. Most carriers will assign a caseworker to a workers’ comp claim. His or her medical and vocational background can be a valuable asset for evaluating an employee’s capabilities and developing temporary job adaptations.

For tips to trim workers’ comp costs, go to