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Common (and Costly) Mistakes in Workers’ Compensation Return-to-Work (RTW) Programs

Gerry Dumke
Posted on: June 8, 2018 by Gerry Dumke

Return-to-Work (RTW) programs are plans established by businesses to help reintegrate injured employees, getting those workers back on the job as quickly as possible. These programs have many benefits for employers and employees alike; for employers, effective RTW programs can reduce workers’ compensation costs, and for employees these programs represent both skill retention and financial security aspects.

No matter how many benefits RTW programs offer, employers should be aware of several common pitfalls when setting up plans. Effective plans can get injured employees back to work in a shorter time in a more cost-efficient way. Here, we’ll break down some of the most costly mistakes in developing an effective RTW plan.

Mistake #1: Not Understanding the Role of Job Descriptions

For healthcare providers involved in workers’ compensation claims and delivering care to injured workers, detailed job descriptions can influence decisions about when an injured employee is truly ready to return to the workplace. A detailed job description can help to clarify job functions, workplace environmental conditions the employees will be exposed to, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and physical demands a given job role has. Without this information, healthcare costs can be excessive, and a good RTW plan takes advantage of job descriptions in helping to lower claim costs.

Mistake #2: Eroding Employee Trust

Effective return-to-work programs establish trust between employer and employee. These plans boost worker morale, letting the injured employee know his or her contributions are valued by the company operation. RTW plans should incorporate positive interactions by avoiding too strong of a focus on policy and instead projecting empathy and compassion in communications with injured workers. Injured workers want to believe that their employers care about them, and maintaining trust between parties can pay big dividends in increased productivity when the injured employee is able to return to work.

Mistake #3: Failure to be Proactive in Communication

Building on the communication aspect of the mistake above, a common pitfall in developing effective RTW plans is the failure of work managers to respond proactively to injured workers’ concerns. A good RTW plan will have a clear communication mechanism, including early communication and assistance when a worker is first injured. Developing this communication plan into the overall RTW plan can help employees feel valued and that the employer is concerned about the worker’s wellbeing and recovery process. Finally, good communication practices can encourage employers and employees to share information on how workplaces could be made safer, helping to reduce the recurrence of similar workplace injuries.

Mistake #4: Failure to Respond to Warning Signs

In any worker-oriented insurance/claims program, from workers’ compensation to RTW plans, there are certain red flags that employers must be aware of. Failure to heed the warnings these red flags represent can be extremely costly, dooming an otherwise-solid RTW plan to ineffectiveness. Some of the warning signs can include:

  • Discrepancies between what employees report to their employers vs. what healthcare professionals are hearing about the injuries.
  • Repeat offenders or those with extensive and negative medical histories.
  • Excessive medical costs (costs exceeding $2000-2500).
  • Repetitive claims of injury

Effective RTW plans build in a collaborative atmosphere between insurers, healthcare teams, and employers to address warning signs and to ensure efficient delivery of the program.

Mistake #5: Skipping Critical RTW Plan Components

Developing an effective Return-to-Work program is the goal for most employers who offer such plans to their workers, but having the right components in those plans is crucial. Here is a quick list of the components that ensure effective programs:

  • Policies that adhere to state and government standards, including guidelines developed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, OSHA regulations, and state-administered workers’ compensation systems.
  • Light-duty or transitional work roles – getting injured employees back on the job with a reduced or modified work role is key in employee retention, which preserves skills and experience while reducing retraining costs for the employer.
  • Safety training plans – the goal for employers is to provide a safe, efficient workplace free of hazards. Safety training in RTW plans can minimize risks across the board, reducing the occurrence of injuries and their associated claims.

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in providing Workers’ Compensation insurance to residential care facilities, including offering a program designed for members of the Indiana Health Care Association (IHCA), HOPE, and Leading Age Indiana associations. We can assist you in reviewing an existing Workers’ Compensation plan, securing coverage, boosting safety plans and implementing RTW programs for your nursing home clients. Please contact us at 317.575.4440.

Posted in: blog Workers Comp Workers Compensation