Return-to-Work Is Not a One-Way Street

You probably work hard to prevent workplace accidents. But what happens when an employee does get injured?

In a perfect world, the employee, employer, doctor and insurance carrier work together as part of a return-to-work team. The team’s goal is to help the employee get well and back on the job.

Return-to-work is an easy sell for employers. It can help reduce your workers’ compensation costs. It also promotes productivity by getting experienced workers back on the team as soon as medically reasonable.

For a return-to-work program to work, however, your employees must do their part. Get their buy-in by explaining what’s in it for them.

The longer employees are off work with injuries, the less likely they are to get back on the job. By the 12th month of disability, their chances of ever returning to work drop 50 percent.

That is bad news for injured workers who live on tight budgets, because workers’ compensation benefits replace only 70 to 75 percent of lost wages.

While the bottom line is the best way to get most people’s attention, it is just as important to remind your injured workers there are also physical benefits to returning to work. Studies show that injured workers who get back on the job actually recover faster. In short, work can be therapeutic.

Return-to-work programs help control the human and monetary costs associated with workplace injuries. The process starts when your insurance carrier finds out about the injury.

Encourage your employees to tell you as soon as possible if they are hurt on the job. Prompt reporting allows your adjuster the opportunity to open a claim when necessary and start working to get the employee well and back to work.

The doctor might determine that the injured worker needs time to heal before resuming normal job duties. He or she might still be able to contribute to productivity, however, by performing modified duty.

Ask your employees to help you brainstorm tasks injured workers can do while they recover. Explain that you are not looking for “busy work.” Modified duty should be meaningful work that contributes to quality or productivity.

In some cases, injured workers may not be able to immediately return to work in any capacity. In the meantime, keep in touch with them, and encourage them to check in with you at least once a week. Stress that their first obligation is to get well. Find out how they’re doing, and ask whether they need help with their recovery.

Employers have access to free tools that can help them launch a return-to-work program or improve an existing program. Texas Mutual offers a downloadable return-to-work kit at Employers and their employees can get more free return-to-work resources through the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation at


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