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More employers are starting to use return-to-work programs for injured workers even if they were not injured on the job, according to a study by Prudential Insurance Co. of America.

Many employers have a return-to-work program for their injured workers because it cuts down on workers’ comp claims costs, and also on the costs of a key employee missing work. It also keeps injured workers from becoming disaffected from the workplace, which makes it harder for them to re-enter later.

But more employers have discovered the value of also returning employees to work who may have to be off work from a number of non-job-related ailments, including, but not limited to:

  • Cancer,
  • Heart disease,
  • Diabetes,
  • Mental health conditions,
  • Back pain, and
  • Injuries incurred outside the workplace.

The survey found that 49% of large employers have a return-to-work program for workers who filed for disability not from work injuries, and another 22% of employers plan to add such programs in the near future.

Prudential noted that workers’ comp and non-occupational disability return-to-work programs should be similar in approach, and that both can save a company money. While the cost/benefit numbers are more readily apparent in the workers’ comp arena, they may not be as easily identified in programs for non-work-related injuries or disabilities.

However, if you have an experienced staff member that is out of action, and work is not getting done or it’s being performed by someone with less experience and skill, it can hurt your operations and bottom line.

Return-to-work strategies and programs have traditionally been used to reduce workers’ compensation costs. But they can also:

  • Improve productivity,
  • Improve morale across an organization,
  • Save organizations time and money, and
  • Protect you from losing talent.

Examples of effective return-to-work strategies include offering the opportunity to work part time, telecommuting, modifying work duties, modifying schedules, and implementing reasonable accommodations to provide employees with the tools and resources they need to carry out their responsibilities.

Efforts such as these can help employees return to work sooner, even while still recovering. This allows the employee to protect their earning power while at the same time boosting the organization’s productivity. Furthermore, in many instances, the ability to return to work after injury or illness plays an important role in the employee’s recovery process.

Return-to-work basics

  • The injured worker and the physician should discuss time frames for recovery, expected duration of pain, the potential need for medication and options for returning to work.
  • The worker should resume, if possible, some form of work that meets the restrictions and requirements outlined by the treating physician. Such modified work is the cornerstone of job rehabilitation.
  • The treating physician should be included in determining whether the physical demands of a modified job are appropriate for the recovering worker.
  • Workplace guidelines should be written out and provided to the employee and employer.
  • The treating physician needs to understand the patient’s work environment and occupational tasks. In difficult cases, a videotape of the job, formal job analysis or an ergonomic report may be helpful to assist in establishing workplace guidelines.
  • Workplace guidelines should be considered flexible and should be updated to reflect the improving medical condition.
  • Work hardening, functional capacity evaluations and other forms of physical therapy can be used to simulate specific job demands so that the worker can eventually resume previous duties without re-injury during the return-to-work phase.
  • An injured worker must be taught to recognize cause and effect related to symptoms, and accept responsibility for symptom control through strategies such as pacing, energy conservation and proper body mechanics.
  • If the treating physician and employer believe there are no suitable duties in the present workplace, it may be necessary to refer the injured worker to a vocational rehabilitation professional.

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